John Moreland once had a pretty clear picture of where his musical career might plateau. The singer-songwriter always pictured himself settling into a semi-comfortable life of playing a corner bar on weekends, maybe getting a hundred bucks for his trouble, and then waking up on Mondays to start another work week at some random day job that he hated.
Then came the release earlier this year of his latest folk rock album “Big Bad Luv.” With the fourth solo album of his career, Moreland – playing a special seated show at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Wednesday – is poised to continue the surprising breakthrough success he found with 2015’s harrowing “High On Tulsa Heat” – and most likely see his album appear on many Best Of lists at the end of 2017.
This, as well as being called one of the top songwriters today by such stars as Miranda Lambert, has led to his shows becoming packed affairs. It’s a welcome change of pace for the singer, one that might mean putting that vision of an unfulfilling 9-to-5er on the back burner for a while.
“There are just so many things up in the air when you put an album out, you never know what is going to happen,” Moreland explains over the phone during a break in touring. “I’m just glad to make a piece of art that I feel good about, one that is satisfying to me, and just realize that whatever happens after that just happens. I’ve just been grateful for the reaction that the album has gotten, and everything that people keep telling me at shows about it is just icing on the cake.”
“Luv” is also helping the singer shed his reputation as the current king of sad songs. The new album doesn’t rely on acoustic guitar quite as heavily as earlier works, and the flirtations with funk and Allman Brothersesque grooves might surprise some longtime fans.
Moreland’s songwriting, often held up alongside fellow Americana star Jason Isbell as an embodiment of the resilience of the common man, focuses on themes that used to be found throughout the lyrics of country music, but are now lost on mainstream radio waves.
Moreland argues that his songs have less in common with sadness and are more about reflecting the things that pop up in a regular person’s life.
“I definitely find it annoying,” he says with a laugh. “When I hear someone describe my songs in that way – to react in a way where I just want to say, ‘(Expletive) you, I’m not sad, I just write songs about real life!’
“There is just something I find satisfying about digging deep into the idea of a song, and not just settling for surface level. I don’t know that I would describe that as being sad, and when I listen to other people’s music, I don’t want them to (expletive) me either. That’s not the same thing as sadness; it’s just emotions. I think people just aren’t used to feeling anything, so when it happens with music, they just equate it with sadness, whether it warrants it or not.”
Who: John Moreland, with Travis Linville
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro