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For Allison Moorer, number two is the hardest part

By Jon Johnson, September 2002

One of the strongest country releases of 2000, Allison Moorer's sophomore disc, "The Hardest Part," solidified her rep as one of the modern era's most promising young female country singer/songwriters. A rumination on the downside of love, the album was by turns traditional (the title track, which Moorer performs live as part of a medley with the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia"), soulful ("It's Time I Tried") and majestic ("No Next Time," with some terrific backing vocals from Lonesome Bob). The capper was an unlisted track, "Cold, Cold Earth," a simple but chilling murder ballad in which Moorer detailed the 1985 death of her mother at the hands of her father, who then turned the gun on himself; perhaps the ultimate example of love gone horribly wrong.

Two years later Moorer, 30, is back with her latest, "Miss Fortune," released in August by Tony Brown's new label, Universal South.

If there's a major difference between "The Hardest Part" and "Miss Fortune," it's that the country aspects of the last album (as well as the one that preceded it) have been greatly downplayed this time around in favor of its soulfulness and classic pop-rock stylings.

All in all, "Miss Fortune" is a very '70s-sounding recording, between The Band-esque funkiness of "Ruby Jewel Was Here," the "Abbey Road"-era Beatles touches heard on "Cold In California" (the album's first single), and the driving Stones/Faces-influenced rock 'n' roll of "Going Down," which could pass for an outtake from "Exile On Main Street."

Indeed, it's not until "Can't Get There From Here," a Moorer co-write with Bruce Robison heard five songs into the album, that pedal steel guitar plays a particularly audible role throughout any of the album's songs.

And fiddles which opened the last album are this time heard only on the album's closing track, "Dying Breed," although string sections otherwise figure heavily in most of the album's arrangements.

That's not to say that "Miss Fortune" is a bad album. Or even a disappointing one. In fact, it's one of the more satisfying pop-rock albums released by a female artist so far this year.

But the country influences of Moorer's first two albums are nearly absent this time around, apart from the Moorer's vocals, which are probably incapable of being de-countrified.

In short, anyone expecting another "The Hardest Part" will likely be surprised, if not left scratching their heads waiting for the twang to kick in.

Speaking from her home in Nashville (which she shares with her husband and frequent co-writer, Doyle Primm, who also co-produced her latest with R.S. Field), Moorer acknowledges the change in approach.

"I just want to keep growing as a singer and a songwriter. I've never really cared what anybody expected of me musically. I've been lucky that I've been allowed to follow my own path. But I think now that I'm older, I'm even more confident in what I want to do and what I should do."

"We did quite a few things different (this time). We spent quite a bit of time in pre-production, paying a lot of attention to arrangements. What we didn't do was just hire musicians, have them come in and play them the songs so they can hear how they go. It was way more involved than that."

In addition to tweaking her musical approach, Moorer has changed labels for her latest album; moving from MCA Nashville to Universal South, though since both labels are owned by the same parent corporation, Vivendi Universal, it's not a major move.

"Tony Brown signed me to MCA, and he was leaving to start this label, and I wanted to go with him. He really gives me free rein. He trusts me, I guess. I have tremendous respect for him. I know there are people that pick on him, but his name is the only name they know. And you know what's funny is that he champions most of the music those people like."

During the conversation, one gets the impression that Moorer, though perfectly friendly and quick to laugh, prefers to hold certain cards fairly close to her chest. She's known for not being particularly enthusiastic about discussing either her parents' deaths or her relationship with her sister, singer Shelby Lynne, beyond saying that her relationship with Lynne is good and that they simply prefer not to talk about each other in the press.

Asked about the origins of some of the songs on the new album, Moorer is again hesitant to give too much away.

"I don't really like projecting things on the listener," says Moorer. "I like people to get their own things from (the songs). I don't like saying 'This song is about this, and that song is about that,' because I think that colors it. I know when I hear (other artists) talk about that, ' that's what I think about when I hear the song."

Following her parents' deaths when she was 13, Moorer was raised in Alabama by her sister, who was 17 at the time. The sisters moved to Nashville in 1990, and Shelby Lynn Moorer was quickly signed to Epic Records as Shelby Lynne, picking up a few hits before shifting her approach away from straight country later in the decade to a broader mix of country, western swing, bluegrass, jazz and pop.

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