Best Albums of 2015: ‘High on Tulsa Heat’ by John Moreland (No. 4)

Photo by Kris Payne.

Photo by Kris Payne.

It’s always risky assuming that a singer’s songs are autobiographical, unless he tells you otherwise. John Moreland is frank about the source material for “High on Tulsa Heat,” his third solo LP and No. 4 on my top-10 albums countdown. “They’re all about me, pretty much,” the Oklahoma singer told me when The Wall Street Journal premiered the album in April. “They’re all from my own life.”

Like an alchemist of the soul, Moreland has a gift for transmuting heartache and anguish into something more precious and rare. Though his lyrics are direct and unflinching, his skill at crafting them turns them into a kind of solace that he delivers in a gravelly voice that sounds well-weathered by the subject matter he’s singing about. There’s nary a dull spot to be found, but “Losing Sleep Tonight” and the wrenching reflection on nostalgia in “American Flags in Black and White” are particular high spots.

Moreland is also a spellbinding live performer, or at least, he was in Northampton the night of the Paris terror attacks, when his solo-acoustic performance was cathartic and, in some small way, defiant. It was powerful, and so is “High on Tulsa Heat.”

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