wears the trousers magazine

allison moorer: crows (2010)
January 12, 2010, 7:44 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Allison Moorer
Crows ••••

Much like her sister Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer is one of those artists who often seems to have been on the verge of a major mainstream breakthrough without ever quite achieving it. Moorer first came to prominence in the late ’90s when her timeless ballad ‘A Soft Place To Fall’ was featured in Robert Redford’s film ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and later put up for an Oscar. Since then, she’s released a string of albums which have expanded the traditional-yet-fresh palette of her debut Alabama Song into areas of rock, pop and soul. And yet, while consistently well reviewed, her albums have never received quite as much attention as they deserve, placing her in a slightly odd position as an artist. Too unpredictable to fit comfortably within the bland mainstream yet too conventional to be considered ‘alt.’, Moorer’s work exists somewhere in between, never achieving the commercial clout of a factory-produced country diva nor the critical (over-)acclaim of a Lucinda Williams.

By rights, Moorer’s mainstream breakthrough should have come with 2002’s magnificent Miss Fortune, a delectable collection of sad and sassy Southern soul that drew comparisons to Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry and gave full range to her expressive voice with its commanding smoulder and twang and rich, mature tone. But Miss Fortune failed to make much of a commercial dent, despite the fact that almost all of its 13 songs sounded like hits-in-the-making. Had it been released today, with the retro-soul scene colonised by unconvincing British Yank-fakery, it’s tempting to imagine a different fate for such a classy – and authentic-sounding – album. Still, Moorer’s liminal position seems to have come to suit her fine – “I’ve always been sort of a square peg in whatever hole anybody would put me in,” she said recently – and on subsequent albums such as 2006’s Getting Somewhere (produced by her husband Steve Earle) and 2008’s satisfying covers record Mockingbird she’s honed a more intimate approach.

Moorer’s new album Crows, her first for Rykodisc, reunites her with Miss Fortune producer R.S. Field but does not mark a return to that album’s lush and dramatic orchestrations. In a departure from her usual methods, Moorer composed around half of the new album’s songs on piano, fleshing them out for the record with a relatively small-scale crew, including Field on drums, Joe McMahon on guitar, Brad Jones on bass and Chris Carmichael contributing string arrangements. The result, though far from the significant stylistic departure it’s been billed as, is a very pleasing addition to Moorer’s catalogue, with a variously spare and textured sound, and a few fresh elements.

The sparse opener ‘Abalone Sky’ sets the bar high. Built around a tense acoustic guitar motif, with a contained but quietly aching vocal from Moorer, the album begins on a compelling note of emotional disequilibrium. There’s a fuller, more layered sound to the next few songs; ‘Goodbye To The Ground’ in particular builds steadily with washes of ambient guitar. Demonstrating Moorer’s wicked way with a hook, ‘Just Another Fool’ and ‘The Broken Girl’ are more generic, even country radio-friendly, but there’s something subversive about the lyrical content of each. The former doesn’t so much critique as vindicate its protagonist’s emotional unavailability, while the latter smuggles some of the album’s darkest lyrics into its jauntiest melody. Piano doesn’t feature prominently on the album until the fifth track, ‘Should I Be Concerned’. Augmented by guitar and strings, and with Moorer’s voice soaring sublimely on the bridge, the song sustains a fine, torchy tone, though its lyrics could have done with another polish.

The lugubrious ‘When You Wake Up Feeling Bad’ provides something of a mid-album slump, on which Moorer sadly resorts to clunky rhymes reminiscent of Lucinda at her laziest. Happily, things quickly improve with ‘Easy In The Summertime’, which charms with an impressionistic portrait of a Southern childhood and segues gracefully into the twinkling benediction ‘The Stars & I (Mama’s Song)’. It’s touching to find Moorer revisiting her traumatic past with nostalgia and tenderness after the pain acknowledged on previous releases. ‘Still This Side Of Gone’ is emotive and direct, while a stronger sense of acceptance and resolve becomes evident on the closing tracks, from the assertive exorcism of ‘Sorrow (Don’t Come Around)’ to the quiet resolution to go with the flow that is ‘Like The Rain’. This resolved mood is encapsulated on the final song, ‘Crows’, on which Moorer’s character chooses to accept rather than resist the presence of the enigmatic emissary in her yard, notwithstanding the mysteriousness of his message. With its vaguely Beatles-esque piano-and-strings arrangement, it’s the album’s most surprising inclusion, and a highlight of a fine record that consistently engages the listener.

Alex Ramon
UK release date: 08/02/10; www.myspace.com/allisonmoorer


1 Comment so far
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the author forgot to mention the Allison’s SHOW is one of the greatest live records of all time…

Comment by scott murphy

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