Back in the mid- to late ‘90s the music landscaped was littered with hotshot blues-rock guitarists who, despite badass guit-chops and their otherwise best efforts, were more or less interchangeable: Chris Duarte, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a few other guys I’m forgetting, and Ian Moore. Moore’s guitar heroics fueled a few hit-or-miss albums (1993’s self-titled debut and 1995’s Modernday Folklore, both for Capricorn) that no one would mistake for the second coming of Stevie Ray Vaughan. A decade later, though, he’s shed the Texas axeslinger mantle for good and lets his rich, soulful voice and remarkable songwriting abilities shine through on his newest album, and first for Yep Roc records, Luminaria.
It’s as hazy a term as there is in music, but Ian Moore now operates under the Americana flag. On Luminaria, Moore synthesizes soul, country, pop, blues, and whatever other sounds he can grasp and mold into his own coherent vision. Comparisons to Wilco abound, but a more accurate reference point would be Grant-Lee Phillips or Jeff Buckley. Phillips, Buckley, and Moore are all great singers (they can coo, then howl, on the turn of a dime), keen lyricists, masters of several musical styles and all share a Southern Goth influence (Moore calls his new sound “Goth-spel”—no stuttering jokes, please). To wit, on the epic “Caroline”, Moore ties a dusty backporch pedal steel to the new fangled “mellowtron” and “omnichord”, and although the two styles couldn’t be more different, under Moore’s watchful eye (he also produced the album) they sound like a perfect match. Ditto for “New Day”, which careens from lullaby to rocker and back without ever inducing dizziness. Luminaria is the sound of a man working at the peak of his abilities.
Despite having been written and recorded on the road by a rotating cast of 13 musicians who capture a breathtaking expanse of music (to say nothing of Moore’s lyrical wanderlust, namechecking Portland, California, Alabama, Bellingham (wherever that is), and Abilene, Texas), Luminaria is a remarkably intimate record. On the opener “What I’ve Done”, Moore nails the little details of a road trip—“the world through dirty windows”, “the road is a black ribbon through a pretty woman’s hair”; on the smoky, jazzy “Cinnamon”, he evokes a Jeff Buckley-esque sensuality and grown-up sexiness when he whispers to the woman lying next to him, “Your body is blushing like blood from a rose.” Luminaria is a “headphones record” that sounds just as vital coming out of regular speakers.
And that’s a good thing, because Moore hasn’t forgotten how to rock. “Abilene” and “April”, with help from Paul Brainard’s pedal steel guitar, will please less-introspective “No Depression” fans, as will the cowpunky “Bastards”, where Moore tries—and succeeds at!—his own “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.
Who knows what prompted Moore’s move out of the blues-rock ghetto, but it’s shaping up to be one of the sharpest career moves for any artist in recent memory. Luminaria burns bright.