4AD country artist John Moreland bleeds for Orlando, Ruston Kelly rises from Nashville's underbelly

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John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
John Moreland and Ruston Kelly, The Social, Feb. 13

Oklahoma’s John Moreland – whose 2017 album Big Bad Luv has the distinct honor of being the rare country sidestep for post-punk legacy label 4AD – is another punk refugee who’s found his way home in folk and country pastures. As a card-carrying member of that particularly wounded and soulful sect, his true-hearted alternative country-rock is the kind that’s built on ghosts and willed by the poetically futile candle one holds for them.
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
But his recent Orlando performance launched by swinging for the fences with his most charging material, riding every piston of his robust four-piece band. They opened by ripping some good, hard Southern boogie and then immediately upshifted into the kind of full-on anthem mode that could hang with the highest flights of American Aquarium or Chuck Ragan.
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
Moreland didn’t really strip it down and just straight open a vein until almost 40 minutes in when he essentially went solo. But when it came, it came heavy.
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
John Moreland at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • John Moreland at the Social
These songs are pure heartbreak in a bottle, the kind that compel a stiff pour of the brown stuff. That sweet devastation went on for over 20 uninterrupted minutes. Once the band returned, they rode glory into the sunset. As early pillars of the careers of Lucero and American Aquarium, this is a city that loves bleeding like that, and this was an appreciative crowd.
Ruston Kelly at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Ruston Kelly at the Social
Opener Ruston Kelly is a Nashville artist who’s emerging with the dubious distinction of having personal ties that are better known than his work. He’s the husband of iconoclastic star Kacey Musgraves, one of the brightest voices in the modern school of mainstream country music that’s young but true. But Kelly is a man – and voice – of his own.
Ruston Kelly at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Ruston Kelly at the Social
His indie-leaning heartland sound is an easy-drinking kind of smoothness that radiates a weary and worn grace. It’s the kind of country music that feels personal and lived, not some rote peddling of canned corn. And the raw live setup of a solo spotlight with only an acoustic guitar and a harmonica made the long soul of his songs breathe with some nice grit and patina. In person, his ache cuts just a little deeper.
Ruston Kelly at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Ruston Kelly at the Social
Ruston Kelly at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Ruston Kelly at the Social
Still, Kelly’s between-song banter did reveal small underside peeks into Nashville society, like slices of life with his famous wife (without ever explicitly naming her) and revelations about the personas and real-life personalities of the bros in Florida Georgia Line (of which there were no fans in this audience, unsurprisingly) and how little of a difference there is between them (oh, gawd).
Ruston Kelly at the Social - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Ruston Kelly at the Social
But don’t go thinking this is the establishment voice of a Music Row prince. He was arrested less than a month ago, wrote a song about it and played it for us here. Stay real, Ruston.

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This Little Underground is Orlando Weekly's music column providing perspective, live reviews and news on the city's music scene.



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