Music

Allison Moorer: Down to Believing

Skip the self-help books on moving through the grieving process and get this album instead.


Allison Moorer

Down to Believing

Label: eOne Nashville
US Release Date: 2015-03-17
UK Release Date: 2015-03-15
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

In the album’s powerhouse rock opener “Like It Used to Be”, Allison Moorer uses her Alabama-accented vocal to create a don’t-mess-with-me vibe, singing, “It ain’t ever gonna be like it used to be / Don’t want to say goodbye but it’ll set me free." This declaration of freedom announces only the beginning of a difficult process that we see worked out through her art. Unlike the majority of albums these days that are structured as collections of songs, Down to Believing is a thematic full-length album that creates a narrative and emotional arc. These songs are birthed out of loss and hardship, guilt and grieving, as they were birthed from the dissolution of her marriage to Steve Earle. In interviews for the album, Moorer has said directly that the songs are intensely personal and honest. We hear the “I” not as a persona or created character, but Moorer herself, representing what she feels and understands at the particular moment of writing and recording.

Knowing that it’s time to end something means also that life as you know it -- and your sense of self -- is about to change. Moorer, a country singer who now calls herself simply a singer-songwriter, enacts that change in the first five songs, a set of rock-inspired sounds full of emotional drama. For this album Moorer enlisted the help of Kenny Greenberg, both as producer and guitarist, and he has created some scintillating electric guitar leads. “Thunder and Hurricane” could be an ominous James Bond theme song. It’s followed by my favorite on the album, the scorching “I Lost My Crystal Ball”, which sounds like a ramped, bluesy version of something like Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away”. The acoustic-flavored title track slows the tempo and suggests the beginning of acceptance (“Anybody that ever loved anybody / Knows that this is part of the deal”), but the anger and emotion gets immediately cranked up again in “Tear Me Apart”, which ends with the lines “I’ve lived and learned / Guess I’m pretty smart / But I still don’t know why you want to tear me apart."

The album’s narrative and sonic arcs take a turn with the beautiful, stripped-down song “If I Were Stronger”, which shows Moorer moving away from the anger and drama of the earlier songs and into an exploration of what life will now hold. Regaining strength, she re-defines what her life will be, and therefore what she will be. She can express regret for the changes (“Wish I”) and yet also remind herself of what she still has, as she does in “Blood”, the beautiful song about her sister Shelby Lynne. She asserts“I’m doing fine” in a song of that name, and yet heartbreak of other kinds exists, as she suggests in “Mama Let the Wolf In”, a song about parenting her young son, who was recently diagnosed with autism. These intimate songs, compared to the earlier rockers, explore the world of hurt that she’s recovering from, but her response comes from a tough wisdom -- she’s no victim here. As a measure of how she’s facing pain squarely, she says, in “Back of My Mind”, that whereas Earle used to be in every thought, every dream, every memory, “Now you’re gone / I put you back where you belong / In the back of my mind." You can read numerous self-help books about how to move through the grieving process, but if you want to hear in compelling song what one woman’s journey has been, then skip the books and get this album.

In the final song, “Gonna Get It Wrong”, Moorer shows just how far she’s come. “Here I am”, she sings, “All worn down to the muscle and the bone." Though worn, she is ready for what will be next: “Seems like everything I do turns into don’t… / I know I’m gonna get it wrong, but it’s alright." The song’s lyric and sonics create together this emotional resting point, not just the slow country sounds of steel guitar and piano but also Moorer’s haunting, bittersweet but not ambivalent, vocal. In my first few listens to this album, I was disconcerted by the numerous styles of songs, which made it difficult for me to peg her music; I have now realized that the range works beautifully to convey the large palette of emotions that accompanies her journey. Moorer can sound angry and bluesy, like Lucinda Williams, or she can switch into a pure warm voice that sounds something like Mary Chapin Carpenter with more country. Perhaps the best comparison is to Rosanne Cash, another singer with ties to Nashville who has chosen to keep her distance and live, like Moorer, in New York City. Like Cash, Moorer vocally can inhabit different genres and help you believe each has a necessary magic. Taken all together, these songs make Down to Believing a deeply moving listen.

Splash image of Allison Moorer from her official website.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

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