Third Man Records set to capture the gritty realism of John Moreland, straight to disc | Features
There’s something special about the best live recordings. It’s this indescribable blend of passion and place that can serve as a time capsule, allowing fans to relive a moment of musical ecstasy over and over again. Unfortunately, some are doctored and changed until the magic of the moment slips away. On Saturday, John Moreland will stop by The Blue Room at Third Man Records, and he and the TMR crew will do everything they can to avoid that.
Moreland, one of the folk world’s most intense artists, will connect to a unique machine that rewards such intensity: Third Man’s vintage live-to-acetate recording rig. The process perfectly captures the imperfection of a real live performance. The master disc from which all copies will be made is cut on their turn in real time as the show unfolds, rather than from a recording, eliminating the possibility of retakes, overdubs or anything else.
Ever since the company revived this technique about a decade ago – and it seems like they’re still the only ones still doing it, at least incorporating it into a room – they’ve started recording select shows in all their raw, unfiltered splendor. Moreland is the next perfect candidate. The rig can capture a collective moment, using a finely tuned instrument to cut a permanent groove in the spinning acetate disc. It’s also what Moreland does to your soul.
Since breaking up with 2015s Raised on the Tulsa heat, the poetic songwriter dug deep into the darkest recesses of the human condition, laying out what he found for all to discover. Like others who got the live-to-acetate treatment before him – Billie Eilish and The Melvins among them – Moreland takes the ugly truth and turns it into something beautiful, with sound that drives home the point.
At the start of his journey into the world of singer-songwriters, the Oklahoma-born ex-hardcore punk sounded like a leftover from the Dust Bowl era: a bluesman with the weight of the modern world on his shoulders, wielding only an acoustic guitar and its gritty but expressive vocal. Although his 2022 album Birds on the ceiling flies further sonically than before, its no-nonsense approach to performance remains intact.
Always anchored in painful vocal confessions, honest without fear and clinging to the hope that the sun is the best disinfectant, he creates on stage hypnotic contemplations and trances. He tends towards soft scratching and scalpel-sharp lyrics, with which he cleaves the emotional foundation of inner turmoil into monuments.
“I never want to look like I have answers, because I don’t,” Moreland says in Birds on the ceilingpress materials from, perhaps oversimplifying his gift for self-reflection. “These songs are all about questions. Everything I write is just trying to figure things out.
In the otherworldly Blue Room, these questions will get even more gripping, with a massive elephant’s head towering over the audience from the far wall, among other retro-chic decor, and with sound engineers in the lab. looking out into the crowd from the control room. . It’s a perfectly odd setting for an equally eccentric company, brought back to life after being left behind by ‘progress’.
Most popular from the 1930s through the 1950s, the direct acetate process is a true holdover from the industrial optimism of the early 20th century. Today, it looks like analog magic.
According to Third Man, their 1950s Scully tour once cut masters for Cincinnati’s King Records, possibly even the original version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” On Record Store Day in 2014, TMR head Jack White and his band used said platform to set a record for the fastest recording from studio to store. (That would be “Lazaret” backed by “Power of My Love.”) Seeing the process in action and being part of it is an experience in itself. But as a relic of the recording arts, it can be temperamental and requires skilled hands to operate, hence the lab coated engineers.
So why even bother? Back in 2013, when TMR released their first live-to-acetate LPs (by The Shins, The Kills and Seasick Steve), the company explained, “We think this new/old method of recording is as honest as it gets, bringing listeners as close as possible to the performance experience.
With John Moreland, this experience is worth capturing. And the more honest, the better.