Please allow me to state that this is a gospel record and that I am an atheist, or non-religious, or whatever. I don’t believe in anything. That said, my personal lack of beliefs does not mean 1) it is not appropriate for me to critique this album, or 2) that I cannot view it as objectively as I need to. Carrying on…
Moore is a Kentucky boy, like me. He has an affinity for rural Appalachian folk and vintage gospel recordings (like a lot of people I know). He sent his first record, a secular affair, unsolicited, to Sub Pop (a big no-no for these put-upon labels), and someone listened. The label picked him up on the strength of it (I haven’t heard it, but seriously, note to self: Don’t listen to labels when they say they don’t accept unsolicited material). For his second excursion on Sub Pop, he takes on six traditional numbers, re-works another two, and offers up three originals, all in a swift 30 minutes, and without any bombast whatsoever. If the word “gospel” conjures the soulful sounds of beefy black ladies in your head, buy a Mahalia Jackson LP.
God didn’t give Moore much vocal prowess, and it’s not the sparsely arranged renditions that bring the album down—it’s his voice. As a singer-songwriter, it’s not a good sign when the best song on your album (in this case, “Lay Down Your Lonesome Burden”) is an instrumental. For example, the “Sweet Georgia Brown”-ified “Up Above My Head” is great musically, but hearing Moore trying to sing like he’s got a pair makes it just okay. The same can be said for “In The Garden” (where, specifically, his reedy voice doesn’t fit the 1940’s-style piano and upright bass groove) as well as “Dark Road”, for which I wrote in my notes, sardonically, “great music at least”.
I understand this is supposed to be a laid-back affair, but also detrimental is how many of the tracks seem sloppily thrown together on a whim, namely the putrid bore “It Is Well With My Soul” (not mine, O brother), and “O My Soul”. Moore keeps mentioning the soul, but where’s the goddamn soul?
Thankfully, it’s not all so bad. A handful of tracks lead you out of the aural purgatory into what might be a bit of sonic heaven. The title track is so sparse and dark, and the sparse intimacy works for it, not against it, with gorgeous results. “Softly and Tenderly” is one we all know and is hard to fuck up, which Moore does not, and while it doesn’t exactly stir the soul, it’s quite pleasant nonetheless. “Set Things Aright” is a Moore original and sounds more secular than hymnal—I could confirm that if I’d taken the time to pay attention to the lyrics.
As you can see, I’ve given In the Cool of the Day a rating of 6, which on the PopMatters scale means “good”. Good isn’t bad. But I don’t really have time for good. And dammit, this is gospel, which is supposed to lift your spirits and fellate your soul, and Moore’s covers and originals simply don’t do that. He came up with a good set of songs, but failed to achieve what I perceive this type of music is supposed to.