Artist: Allison Moorer
Album: Down To Believing
Release Date: 03/17/2015
Allison Moorer takes her confessional songwriting very seriously. She has a job to do. “Even though this is the longest period between albums—five years—I’ve never stopped writing songs. Most of my songs have to do with me. This record has more out- than inward songs. I’m being very direct about my experiences in the last five years: becoming a parent, having a marriage ruined, dealing with change, acceptance and everything in between.”
She copes stoically with her separation from Steve Earle and the enormous responsibility of caring for their four-year-old autistic son, John Henry. I can’t think of another artist who confronts personal tragedies on record more directly than Moorer. She captured the unbelievable pain of her parents’ murder-suicide in “Cold, Cold Earth” 15 years ago. She is every bit as fearless now as she was then. And she is still dealing with plenty of pain.
Down To Believing is Moorer’s eighth studio album, and one that she thought she might never make. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever make an album again even though I continued to write songs. This record has been three years in the making. First with demos I was hoping that someone else would pick up. Then I wrote ‘Blood’ for Shelby [Lynne, her sister] three years ago. When I wrote ‘Tear Me Apart,’ Kenny and I decided to make a record.” Moorer is referring to producer, guitarist and close friend, Kenny Greenberg, who produced her first two albums. “I had 22-23 songs and was trying to cull them into one coherent statement that expressed how I was feeling about these changes. The time was right. Kenny is someone I can count on and we have a real easy way of communicating. He’s just an amazing guitar player too.”
Throughout her career, the passionate, Grammy- and Academy Award-nominated Moorer has worked in straight-ahead country, roots rock and folk pop to deliver her candid statements. Down To Believing—unlike her last two albums, both a bit experimental—has the feel of country pop, self-described as “back to the basics.” It may, however, be more musically varied and lyrically consistent than her previous records. Although she does play piano on two tracks, Moorer mostly focused on the lyrics and left the arrangements to Greenberg.
These songs, for the most part, need very little interpretation. The dissolution of her marriage is captured economically in just 13 lines in “Thunderstorm/Hurricane”: “I ignored all the signs/So it took me by surprise/Now I’m caught out in the rain/A thunderstorm, a hurricane.” That song and the opening single, “Like It Used To Be,” feature some blazing guitar from Greenberg. The ballad-like title track is just as direct, confronting next steps and expressing persistence: “Staring down at the ground ain’t gonna help us none, there’s no need in making this hard/Life’s too long to wake up everyday without someone that likes all your scratches and scars.”
Moorer also does the record-company-mandated cover with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” (which she recorded in just two takes). While Moorer, like most artists, would prefer to have all self-penned tunes, she has always liked CCR and this song fits well on the record. The closer, “Gonna Get It Wrong,” is an interesting expression of maturity and optimism. Again, it’s about how she feels as a parent: “I’m giving up the idea of being perfect. We’ll go through it together and it will eventually work out.”
The song that will likely get the most attention is the swampy “Mama Let The Wolf In.” This is the angriest Moorer has ever been on record. I recoiled a bit when hearing her lyric describing the wolf as a “big bad motherfucker.” It’s her way of expressing the kind of frustration any parent feels when they have absolutely no control over their child’s condition. Inevitably, you feel that perhaps you did something to cause it. It’s a feeling of being very powerless. Fortunately, her son is doing well and is enrolled in a special school in New York City (which will limit her touring to short stints). “Most of the responsibility for our son falls on me,” Moorer said. “His dad has a new album out so I’ll play when I can but there won’t be any three-week tours”.
Moorer is also well into the second draft of her memoir, a project she describes as “incredibly hard at times… Sometimes I find myself in thought for an entire day before I can get the words down. But, it’s really important to me that I do this and it will be out soon.” In the meantime, you’ll want to catch the stripped-down essence of Down To Believing‘s songs and Moorer’s emotive voice on these dates where she’ll be swapping songs live with her good friend, Mary Gauthier.
– Jim Hynes