If you’re familiar with Abra Moore, you’re either fairly familiar with the female singer/songwriter genre, or you watch plenty of shows like Party of Five, Melrose Place, Felicity, and Dawson’s Creek, where Moore’s lilting songs are prone to appear. Or, at the very least, you may have heard a Simlish version of her song “Big Sky” in The Sims video game. Since her days as a founding member of Poi Dog Pondering, the Austin-based Moore has flirted with the mainstream. Her major label debut, 1997’s Strangest Places, even garnered a GRAMMY nomination, though even this didn’t allow her to fully break through.
That’s not likely to change with On the Way, but not due to any fault of the album’s (although at least one song, “I Believe” sounds tailor-made for TV or film). Moore is right on target when she calls On the Way a “gentle sway” of an album. Its hooks are subtle, not to be found in flashy choruses or energetic pop breaks, but instead in the mournful call of Ephraim Owens’ muted trumpet, or in the inflections of Moore’s own wispy voice. Moore’s albums typically need to be taken as a whole, with her songs not sounding particularly suited for the three-minute window of opportunity afforded by radio (no matter how well they might fit over a Very Special Moment in a teen drama).
The disc starts off with songs that seem steeped in the power of memories. “Into the Sunset” comes across like a summer reverie with its portrayal of a young boy enjoying the rain. “After All These Years” deals with the pull of romantic memories, while “Sugarite” seems to concentrate on the pull of familial bonds across the miles and through the difficulties of life.
This first part of the album feels like a bit of a warm-up, though. Apart from the quiet trumpet that colors “Into the Sunset”, the beginning of On the Way is fairly straightforward—and possibly in danger of drifting away on the wind. “Sorry” nails things down again, though, with Moore using her vocals to mirror the strains of trumpet that weave through the song. Indicative of Moore’s practice of singing jazz standards in her spare time, “Sorry” shows the heights that On the Way is capable of reaching. Conversely, “No Turning Back” is just as effective because of the low-key, minimalist arrangement that wraps Moore in distant keyboards and guitar, with Will Sexton helping out on backing vocals.
The nicest thing about On the Way is its organic feel. A few songs aside, it doesn’t sound like Moore and producer Mitch Watkins spent too much time obsessing over every little detail. The songs on On the Way are crafted, to be sure, but the arrangements usually seem in perfect sympathy with Moore’s airy vocals. Often, when a song feels like it’s about to dissipate, a nice touch (such as the violins on “Birthday Song”) comes in to keep things rooted. It doesn’t always work—a few songs fail to fully connect—but this is a nice effort from Moore.