Music

Allison Moorer: Crows

Moody, sensual, bleak and at times, even pious, Moorer’s latest album never commits to either side of being tragically beautiful or beautifully tragic.


Allison Moorer

Crows

Label: Rykodisc
US Release Date: 2010-02-09
UK Release Date: 2010-02-08
Amazon
iTunes

Allison Moorer, like her older sister Shelby Lynne, her husband Steve Earle and really, countless other artists from the swamplands outskirts of what is known as, among other labels, “Americana”, has always deserved to break into a bigger audience. That Nashville never embraced her in the way they embraced extremely lesser acts is both an egregious error and a clear warning sign to the sad, trite and derivative state of mainstream country music. Over the course of her decade-long career, Moorer has recorded an eclectic variety of styles, including blue-eyed soul, retrospective country, gritty folk and even a stab at modern pop, just to name a few. She’s rarely failed at any of those styles.

Whereas Moorer has often relied on her powerhouse, soulful and sweet alto to help salvage her weaker material (Getting Somewhere in particular), her latest studio album Crows actually finds the singer coming into her own as a matured and nuanced songwriter. Moorer was never a mediocre songwriter, but some of her material can be criticized for its obviousness in convention and arch. It was Moorer herself who used her cover album Mockingbird to refine and sharpen her own skills.

In that sense, and with the bird-themed titles, Crows is an obvious continuation of Mockingbird. Moorer has taken her influences and found new ways to intergrate them with her own eccentric songwriting to produce something that is truly striking, bold and original in ways that many contemporary country artist just can’t touch. (This is something that separates her from someone like Julian Plenti or Dawes.)

It’s as if Moorer has taken a black veil and placed it above her song choices on Mockingbird. Lead single “Broken Girl” takes the scorn Moorer conveyed on her cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” and embellishes it with a slick girl-group backing chorus. “When You Wake Up Feeling Bad” has the coarse, rough and authentic bite of Ma Rainey’s “Daddy Goodbye Blues”. Cat Power’s endearing and moving “Where Is My Love” oozes out of “Easy In the Summertime”, and the lush title track suggests Moorer has found a way to bring a sense of macabre to “Go, Leave”.

That Moorer is able to take those inspirations and fit them into her own aesthetic without every drawing attention to themselves is, in and of itself, worth noting. That doesn’t fully give proper accolades to Moorer’s own sense of detail in her writing. When Moorer is at the top of her game, she’s able to take the tragedy of her own personal narrative and fit that into a socio-economic setting that is unmistakably “Southern”. This is best seen on the jaw-dropping “Dying Breed” from Miss Forunate. Moorer is mostly on her A-game throughout the song cycle of Crows.

Moorer strips away the nursery rhymes that sometimes plagued her output and instead focuses on song narratives that break from traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. The result is richly rewarding, with songs like “Early in the Summertime” boasting a phenomenal story arc. “Should I Be Concerned?” contains a line that most singers would trip over, but Moorer brings grace to each syllable with her deceptively seductive lower range.

At its least, Crows is a fine example of what a good musicology student Moorer is. At its best, the album finds the singer tackling issues and heading into gloomy territory without every looking back. Moody, sensual, bleak and at times, even pious, Moorer’s latest album never commits to either side of being tragically beautiful or beautifully tragic.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image