With a voice that sounds like a fusion of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, John Moreland couldn't sound refined if he wanted to, and the rough, rootsy sound of his first several albums, steeped in alt-country, contemporary folk, and roots rock, fit him and his songs like a glove. But after a short-lived association with the British indie label 4AD for his 2017 release Big Bad Luv, Moreland has regained his independent status and, rather surprisingly, made an album that sounds a bit more like what one might have expected for his 4AD debut. On LP5, the acoustic guitars and weeping harmonicas haven't gone away, but the arrangements are spare, with keyboards and drum loops playing a much larger role than ever before, as plenty of clean space gives the music a spectral, haunted feel. This a John Moreland album for two in the morning as you lie awake wondering what has happened to your life, which suits the material. Titles like "I'm Learning How to Tell Myself the Truth," "I Always Burn You to the Ground," and "Let Me Be Understood" give a fair impression of the album's tone, and "East October" and "In Times Between" are no more comforting; on LP5, Moreland's world is one of loneliness and disappointment, and while these songs are short on self-pity, he's not able to shake off his blues without a struggle. But Moreland is honest and articulate as he tries to sort out his demons, and if this is a very different album for him, the songs are heartfelt and well-crafted, and the production by Matt Pence of Centro-Matic takes the songwriter to a different place with effective, moving results. Some of John Moreland's fans are likely to be surprised by LP5, but as an expression of his talent and range, it stands with his best work to date.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming