Allison Moorer came to fame around the height of the 1990's alt-country/Americana scene... Like her older sister, Shelby Lynne, Moorer started out as a major label country artist, but found a stronger niche as an rock-oriented "adult contemporary" artist, dipping back into twang as the mood struck her, but basically an artist who is untethered by any particular genre or label. In 2005, she married alt-country icon Steve Earle, and has collaborated with him on some of her more recent records... Here's a quick look at Moorer's work.
Allison Moorer "Alabama Song" (MCA, 1998)
(Produced by Kenny Greenberg)
With her husky, blues delivery, rootsy musical backup (real country with a strong rock sensibility), and not-overly-ornate lyrical bent, Moorer suggests a canny mix of, perhaps, Melba Montgomery and Rita Coolidge. This is a pretty good record, maybe a little on the sombre, serious side, but with some well-crafted, earthy tunes and a straightforward hard country vibe that by default sets it midway between Nashville and the alt.country scene. (I'm sure the agnosticism of "Is Heaven Good Enough For You" raised a few eyebrows in the fundamentalist recesses of Nashville, but whatever your social politics, you'd find it hard to deny that Moorer had a way with singin' a song!) Later releases are way too pop, but this one's worth picking up if you're looking for a bit of twang. (PS - by the way, Ms. Moorer is also known as kid sister to Nashville semi-outsider Shelby Lynne. Golly.)
Allison Moorer "The Hardest Part" (MCA, 2000)
A transitional album, moving from her "country" roots into plainer pop-soul leanings. Although she's still pretty twangy here, a Dusty In Memphis vibe is starting to take over, and some of the more aggressive (and prolonged) rock guitar interludes are kind of a drag, at least for those of us who already own Sheryl Crow's first couple of albums. Overall, this album doesn't really work for me, although I still like some of the songwriting.
Allison Moorer "Miss Fortune" (MCA, 2002)
Alison Moorer "Show" (Universal South, 2003)
As she traipses into increasingly "pop" terrain, I honestly have to say that don't quite get Moorer's appeal, even when watching her perform on a combination CD/DVD set like this. The tone of her voice just irritates me, it's deep and indistinct, like a second-string 'Sixties soul sister, or even one of those early-'80s "women's music" stars, like Tret Fure or Melissa Etheridge. Maybe I'm just not the target audience, but I can't get past how she sounds in order to pay attention to how she writes. For fans, though, this set will seem like pure gold. It's much rootsier and twangier than her previous albums, and the added video disc shows her and her band at their height of their abilities.
Allison Moorer "The Duel" (Sugar Hill, 2004)
(Produced by R. S. Field & The Primms)
An odd match-up between the folkie-bluegrass Sugar Hill label and Ms. Moorer, particularly as this is one of her most crunchy, electric-guitar heavy rock albums to date. The opening track, "I Ain't Given Up On You," has a strong '70s classic rock flavor, almost Led Zeppy, even, and Neil Young's grungy visage hovers over the remainder of the album, even as Moorer's vocals get more soul-drenched and emotive, casting her deeper into the Dusty Springfield/Bobbie Gentry mould... Four songs in, the guitars get so unapologetically strident, it almost sounds as if Teenage Fan Club were backing her up (!) and then finally, she relents and coughs up some country with the spacy "One On The House" and the strummy "When Will You Ever Come Down." That's about it for the twang factor on this one, though... the closing numbers are more acoustic, but not overtly "country." Moorer's lyrics are uniformly bleak, and often a bit too convoluted for my tastes, though gloom junkies should go ga-ga over this one. At least she seems to be writing music she believes in, and injects more genuine instrospection and depth than you normally find on records these days... Fans and the idly curious alike should find a lot to latch onto with this one.
Allison Moorer "Getting Somewhere" (Sugar Hill, 2006)
(Produced by Steve Earle)
There is teensy bit of twang and acoustic reverie on here, but at this point I think it's safe to say that Ms. Moorer has pretty much established that she is, indeed, a rocker. It's not very country, so I'm not that into it, but if you've been digging what Shelby Lynne and Sheryl Crow have been up to for the last few years (or Allison Moorer, for that matter!), then you'll like this as well... Muscular, melodic and intelligently crafted, this is pretty solid "adult alternative" material. Worth checking out.
Allison Moorer "Mockingbird" (Sugar Hill, 2008)
(Produced by Buddy Miller)
An ambitious, if awkward, album in which Moorer covers well-known songs made famous by a variety of female artists. The thing about doing covers of other people's work -- particularly an entire album of other people's work -- is that, well, you're going to get compared to those other people. On some of these songs, Moorer makes some interesting creative choices, really transforming the music; on others, like her versions of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot," she follows the original templates so closely that nothing new really emerges. But the whole homage-vs.-interpretation thing isn't the key factor here: what's really problematic is that this record is so damned lethargic and bleak. All the songs are taken at a snail's pace, with Moorer loping over the downbeats like a sprinter slowly climbing over the hurdles, rather than taking a jump. It's just so, very, deeply dreary and depressing, and such a long, unbroken spell of songs that come from various sources, but all feel the same. I just couldn't get into it, despite being a big fan of album producer Buddy Miller. Oh, well. Maybe she just needed to work some big bummer vibe out of her system.
Allison Moorer "Crows" (Rykodisc, 2010)
(Produced by R. S. Field)
Moorer delves deeper into the world-weary, introspective world of adult-alternative pop, without much trace of her already-vestigal twang-folk roots. Mostly this doesn't speak to me, although I think it's probably pretty good for the style. Perhaps, I am just too simple a man with too simple of tastes to really "get" this stuff -- if asked, I doubt I could tell you what most of these songs were about, mostly 'cause there aren't any big melodic hooks or easily grasped themes, but rather a wash of doleful emotions amid a finely-textured pop palette. Moorer seems to be exploring similar territory to, say, Aimee Mann, a face-in-the-mirror look at middle age and lowered expectations, but with less of a sense of humor. Some songs stand out, like "When You Wake Up Feeling Bad," which explores depression and disappointment in a way that crystalizes her concerns, but a lot of this album just seems like more of a generalized malaise, and it's hard to differentiate the songs from each other... Mostly, this set just seems like a big downer, with some sort of spiritual yearning in the mix. I guess I'm still a kid at heart, though: I want something I can sing along to, and there's not a lot of that here.
Allison Moorer "The Definitive Collection" (MCA Nashville, 2005)
Allison Moorer "The Ultimate Collection" (Zoom, 2008)
Hick Music Index