In a world of musical sound-alikes, Ian Moore is one of the few artists out there without an analogue. Sure, he’s got his peers, but he’s ballsier than Josh Rouse, bluesier than Josh Ritter, grittier than Matthew Sweet, brainier than Ryan Adams, and more muscular than Grant-Lee Phillips. Moore’s transformation from trad bluesman to restless pop chameleon maybe most closely echoed Chris Whitley, who passed away in 2005 at age 45, so really, Moore’s out there by himself, a man without a flag—a rarity in this day and age.
It’s ironic, then, that Moore sounds more like the “old” Ian Moore on El Sonido Nuevo, his seventh record, than he has in a very long time. Call it a summation of a nearly 20-year career, call it a personal inventory, but know that El Sonido Nuevo is another remarkable album from one of the truly under-appreciated artists working today.
Of course, after all this talk of Moore celebrating his expansive sonic palette, he opens El Sonido Nuevo with exactly that—another stylistic detour: The anti-hipster screed “Secondhand Store” is power pop nonpareil (aided and abetted by Posies co-conspirator Matt Harris), a (welcome) move that surprised even this longtime Moore devotee, and one without precedent in the Moore catalog.
Stripped down to a power trio after 2004’s Luminaria and ‘07’s To Be Loved, it’s working with Harris and drummer Kyle Schneider that seems to have loosened Moore up. As for the turns through his back pages, he delivers a few history lessons (a la Luminaria‘s “Sir Robert Scott”) on “Belle, My Butterfly”, a bouncy sounding pop song about boxer Jack Johnson’s betrayal at the hands of Belle Schreiber (under the Mann Act), and “Hillary Step”, which chronicles Beck Weathers, an explorer left to die on Mount Everest in 1996 who miraculously survived a night on the mountain at 26,500 feet without oxygen canisters.
Elsewhere, Moore makes some runs through kitchen sink pop on “Silver Sunshine”, late ‘60’s psychedelia on “Newfound Station” and the minor key stroll/love song “Tap the Till”. The man is a master of all trades.
The real surprise of El Sonido Nuevo is Moore’s revisiting of his blues-rock hero guise. There are plenty of heroics in the codas of “Birds of Prey” and “Silver Sunshine”. Meanwhile, the swaggering “Salt Mines” and populist sentiment of “The Levees” (“These days go by/but most days we’re barely just getting by”) pretty much sums up life In these United States in 2011 and could both have fit nicely on 1996’s transitional Modernday Folklore. Couple these songs with the bluesy “Let Me Out” and “Look Inside” and El Sonido Nuevo‘s Side B is one of the toughest-sounding—not to mention most fun and effortless—slabs of music Moore has offered in ages.
Then, of course, to defy expectations yet again and remind everyone who is in charge here, he closes with an aching, sideways re-write of Big Star’s “Holocaust”, here called “Sad Affair”. A curious, superlative songwriter, a world-class guitar slinger, a tireless seeker of sounds (and did I mention a great soulful singer?) all of Moore’s impressive tools are on display on El Sonido Nuevo.