+ Finally Getting Somewhere: An Interview with Allison Moorer The Bravest Album of the Year—that’s what many critics called Allison Moorer’s last album, 2004’s The Duel. While some of the proclamations were clear examples of critical shorthand, the case was valid. After all, Moorer ditched her band, ditched her label, and even—to some extent—ditched her sound. Rather than being content to sing fairly traditional country songs with more conviction than her peers, she made an album that was more rock ‘n’ roll than country, both in sound and attitude. Not only did she plug in, she also railed against everything a good country girl is supposed to believe in and promote: God, blind patriotism, and the virtue of a big plastic smile. Moorer wasn’t having it anymore, and her vitriol was only matched by her lyrical acuity; rather than just writing three-minute diatribes, she created a series of characters in dire situations that were believable and recognizable, and their struggles were so poignant you couldn’t help but relate. Yes, it is a powerful album, and it certainly was a brave move. This raised some obvious questions: where would Moorer go from such an abrupt, radical shift? Would she continue to grow more political, more dissatisfied, and more caustic? Most importantly, could she make another album that was as a big of a leap in a new direction? While all of these questions vexed the critics and fans, they didn’t vex Moorer. Rather than trying to outdo herself, she did something even more courageous: instead of questioning authority, she decided to question herself and face the realities of growing up. Since The Duel, Moorer has survived a divorce, only to fall in love again with Steve Earle, whom she recently married. This rebirth is apparent in her new songs, which reflect the optimism of love. Rather than seething with anger, Getting Somewhere is an album about the joy of survival, and the relief of allowing yourself to believe. This process of maturity is chronicled throughout the album, beginning with the first track, “Work to Do”. As the title implies, the song is about making progress, but it’s also an anthem for women stuck under the thumbs of controlling and demeaning men. “I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Moorer sings, “Got to give you back your point of view.” Moorer say she wrote the song for girls who are brainwashed into believing they are inferior, and this kind of self-examination is a common theme in Getting Somewhere. In “How She Does It”, Moorer comes to terms with a pivotal and tragic moment in her childhood—the murder-suicide of her mother and father. In reality, Moorer’s father killed her mother before taking his own life, but the song rewrites history. Rather than going back home to an abusive husband, the protagonist simply decides to turn the opposite direction, thus saving her own life. Referring to the track, Moorer said, “It hit me that I don’t have to tell it as it is; I can tell it as I want it to be.” Facing the impact of this tragedy—as well as other difficult experiences—wasn’t easy for Moorer, but she says that music has helped her give up the angst found in The Duel. Musically, the album sees Moorer continuing to flirt with rock, but also refining her country roots. While The Duel was notable for its forays into blues-rock, Getting Somewhere features several songs crafted in the mold of classic pop, the kind made by the Byrds, Tom Petty, and the Pretenders—heavy on melody and hooks. “If it’s Just for Today”, for instance, is an unabashed love song that combines jangly guitar riffs with a chorus reminiscent of Spector’s girl groups. “You’ll Never Know” is a slow acoustic song that also features a pop melody echoed by the lead guitar. Unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of songs pop radio won’t play, because solid craftsmanship isn’t trendy. Not all of the songs, however, find Moorer exploring new territory. “Fairweather” wouldn’t sound out of place on the mainstream country charts, which is ironic since it’s the only song on the album Moorer co-wrote with Earle. Likewise, “Where You Are” is a country ballad, replete with swelling violins and lyrics about longing—not to mention a devastatingly beautiful melody. And for those worried that Earle’s production and influence might overwhelm Moorer’s sound, such fears are unfounded. Aside from a backwards guitar solo and a think bass sound on some of the songs, the sound is entirely Moorer’s. So, those looking for an album as polemical as The Duel won’t find it in Getting Somewhere. Moorer no longer wonders if there is a God; she’s certain that there is, even if He (or She or Whatever) isn’t dressed in sacraments and canon law. And while she’s still annoyed by blind patriotism, she realizes that being peaceful is sometimes just as effective as being angry. Some may see all of this as a sign that Moorer was tired of taking flak and decided to be meek. They’d be wrong. Getting Somewhere is the most courageous album she could make at this point in her life, an unflinching study of growing up and gaining some perspective. Unlike all the other “protesters”, Moorer is no longer rebelling in all the socially acceptable, prescribed ways. She’s rebelling by seeking happiness in an age of cynicism.
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// Notes from the Road
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