Allison Moorer’s 2004 release, The Duel, sounded like just that — a concept album about struggles with faith, relationships, the status quo, the weight of promises and hopes for the future. The set ended with a death, of sorts, “Sing Me To Sleep” echoing Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”. Moorer told me in an interview, “The Duel is really about faith — trying to find it, wondering if you’ll ever have it again.…I think it’s best to try to find it.”
On Getting Somewhere, her search appears headed for daylight. She just had to leave all her baggage behind for the journey.
The Duel was a stripped-down affair compared to its 2002 studio predecessor, Miss Fortune, for which Universal South pulled out the stops, lathering Moorer’s songs with string and horn arrangements, backing vocalists, piano, and a small army of guitar players. With The Duel, she moved to Sugar Hill, and focused on achieving a band feel with just four players. The result was a greater sense of immediacy and intimacy; the music put her in a better position to travel light, even with no band at all.
Through four acclaimed studio albums, Moorer had never toured without a band, but in 2004 she decided to open some shows for Steve Earle. She also had rarely recorded songs she composed herself; her previous output had been co-written mostly with her then-husband Butch Primm. But she began mustering originals, and made plans to record them with Earle producing.
Given the context, “getting somewhere” is perhaps an understatement. Along the way she divorced Primm, married Earle, and moved with him from Nashville to Greenwich Village. Where she’s gotten to is clearly a pretty happy place, a confident one full of wide-eyed self-discovery, and willingness to risk everything to capitalize on what she’s found.
One might have been hard-pressed to imagine a new, improved Allison Moorer. She has always led with her voice (heartbreakingly gorgeous), her phrasing (intelligent, reflecting a comprehensive grasp of the traditional country mise en scène), her careful diction, and her depth of feeling, rooted in life experiences that might have disabled a lesser character.
Thankfully, she and Earle have left these strengths untouched, and Earle naturally puts them front and center in the mix. That said, the unmistakably Earle-inspired instrumentation and arrangements take some getting used to, particularly the highly animated bass parts by studio veteran Brad Jones.
It appears Moorer is inclined now to write the occasional, and fine, pop and rock song. She writes them because she’s discovered she can, and she sings the hell out of them. The power and flash of Earle’s arrangements suit this new development, especially in the mood of the breakout opener, “Work To Do”, an emphatic declaration of independence from a naysayer: “I’ll just keep on tryin’ till those lies you told me fade on out of sight, if it takes dynamite.”
Earle kicks things back on the gentle ballad “Hallelujah”, with its anthemic chorus celebrating, “Faith is hard to find/Thank God I found mine in time.” She clings to that fiercely through the title track, which plays like a global litany of challenges.
Moorer has even discovered she can change reality through fiction. She has said that “How She Does It” rewrites her own mother’s experience; the mom in the song escapes with her kids, although the outro suggests the getaway car breaks down in the end.
Love, life, and music are all a risky business. In “If It’s Just For Today” written for Earle, Moorer sings, “I can’t see tomorrow, nobody can/And every hourglass is runnin’ out of sand.” Take things one opportunity at a time, she seems to say, and keep the faith.