1. Decorated lies
Everything that truly matters — music, art, life — finds expression within her extraordinary voice, a bold, slightly husky, thoroughly fearless instrument. The words come impeccably phrased, modestly adorned, smart and direct. And yet, even if Allison Moorer couldn’t sing a note, the songs she writes, mostly with her husband, Butch Primm, would still be striking in their simplicity, ambition, and beauty.
Very little matters in music right now — it’s all some weird, decorative dot.com dance between commerce and art that keeps tripping over itself, too clever by half, and thoroughly compromised. So Moorer’s second album, The Hardest Part, is a relief, a sharp, chill wind. It is, by present standards, audacious in its assertion that truth count for as much as the chorus.
It does. Actually, it does.
And so even if these words become unwanted hyperbole, and arguable, they are no less true for all that: There is no better singer at work today, and only a very few are her equal. The Hardest Part is her truth, and hard-won. Hardest won. Nothing else could hurt that much, and precious little art comes from joy.
Such a sad, sad world, and glorious.
2. The day you said goodbye
“This is a love story,” Allison says, her husband at her side and Mermaid Avenue playing on the bar stereo. “The first song on the record, ‘The Hardest Part’, makes a statement about love: ‘The hardest part of living is loving, ’cause loving turns to leaving every time.’ That is what I believe to be true. No matter if you’re in a love relationship, in a relationship with parents or siblings, whatever it may be, it’s gonna end.
“Some people think I’m cynical, some people think that’s a hard way of looking at things. I just see it as reality. That’s the truth to me. Tracks two through ten back that up, for me. By the time you get to the end of the record, you know why I said that.”
She speaks calmly, directly, and Butch nods, looking nowhere in particular, for it is by now old ground, and the story of the album which she will repeat to the press for the next months; the story of an album they co-wrote, co-produced (with Kenny Greenberg), and finished almost a year before its September 26 U.S. release.
The story of the album is also that the album dares to tell a story. A country music concept album. On MCA, one of the few, the proud, the still-dominant players in mainstream country music. Long-time star Marty Stuart’s critically acclaimed concept album, The Pilgrim, released by the same label last year, sold 26,000 copies (according to SoundScan), and then he was dropped.
The Hardest Part doesn’t much draw attention to its internal links, though its lyrics are presented in paragraph form. It is not necessary, perhaps, to know that all ten songs watch a relationship disintegrate from the same woman’s point of view; they can simply be country love songs, and one can quite contentedly ride along with Moorer’s voice for the duration.
The ride along the way includes everything from hard country fiddle to swelling strings, reflecting throughout the singer’s almost encyclopedic awareness of country’s myriad traditions while simultaneously achieving the spotless sound of today’s hits. Supporting musicians include Jay Bennett (Wilco), Harry Stinson (Dead Reckoner), and Buddy Miller.
All of this, especially in Nashville, and especially today, demonstrates an extraordinary amount of creative freedom. Used wisely.