Making sense of things isn’t always easy. Singer/songwriter Allison Moorer knows this, for sifting through life’s various complexities can make for a good song and even better story. On “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around),” one of the starkly candid songs on Moorer’s forthcoming effort, Crows, she hints at a hidden optimism that sometimes is ignored or forgotten. “I
gotta turn you away so I can keep this hope alive/You’re tapping on the window but I won’t let you inside/Maybe you’ll give up and find somebody else tonight/I draw the curtains, say a prayer and turn out the light.”
Nearly 12 years ago, Moorer made an unforgettable introduction with her contribution of the thoughtful ballad, “A Soft Place to Fall,” to the soundtrack to the Robert Redford-directed drama, The Horse Whisperer, which later earned her an Academy Award nomination. From there, Moorer went on to carefully craft a long-lasting career with her impressive debut LP, Alabama Song, while challenging herself to always look inward for an even deeper meaning -- which she certainly explored on Miss Fortune (2002) and The Duel (2004). In 2007, Moorer received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Days Aren’t Long Enough,” a song co-written with her husband, singer-songwriter Steve Earle.
Venturing into a creative world beyond music was merely natural, too; that fall, Moorer went on to appear in the stage production of Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s “Rebel Voices,” a theatrical adaptation based on their best-selling book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States. And in late 2009, Moorer appears in The History Channel’s The People Speak, a film inspired by Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which also features Bob Dylan, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Springsteen, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, John Legend, Josh Brolin and more.
But only now does Moorer admit that she feels as if she’s figuring out what she’s doing. Such cool confidence breathes easy on her seventh studio album, Crows.
“[The process of recording Crows] surprised me every step of the way because I felt like I was writing on a level that I hadn’t before,” Moorer says. “I felt like I was being the most open I’d ever been. I don’t know if that’s age or confidence or what, but after all this time, I’m starting to feel like I know what I’m doing as a singer. Songwriting is very mysterious to me. I know how songs work but I don’t always understand how they come to be.”
Last year’s covers collection, Mockingbird -- which found Moorer covering female artists like Nina Simone, Patti Smith and Gillian Welch -- was her way of returning to a place where it all began. “I had made what felt like a lot of records in a short amount of time, and I needed to step back from the process of writing a record, recording a record, and touring a record. I needed to change it up a little bit, so I essentially sent myself back to school,” explains Moorer. “When you’re learning how to play and sing, one of the ways you do that is by learning other people’s songs. No one is born with their own songs, so that’s how you learn to write.” Thus, with that refreshing break Moorer headed into the House of David Studio in Nashville to record the 13-song Crows in just four days. Here, she’s found humor in darkness and sifts through life’s complexities for her richest, most soul-bearing effort yet.
“I’ve always been guilty of making music for myself. The older I get, the more I do it. I’m just trying to turn myself on because if I don’t do that then I certainly can’t expect to turn anyone else on,” says Moorer.
From the starkly honest title track and the sparkling acoustic guitars of “Still This Side of Gone” to the more upbeat “Just Another Fool” and “The Broken Girl,” Moorer explores the many facets of emotion without restraint. Whether she’s questioning her own moods or considering what others might be going through, Moorer’s approach is incredibly warm. And
with all its intricate loveliness, Crows is a pure and natural rock & roll record.
R.S. Field, who worked on Miss Fortune, The Duel, and the live LP, Show, produced and plays drums on Crows. “I knew R.S. could appreciate the nuances in these songs, and that he could see the inside as well as the outside,” Moorer says. “I had to have someone who really understood where I was coming from, and he understood that I was pushing myself, that I was opening up again in a way that I hadn’t before.”
Other highlights include the piano-driven “Easy in the Summertime” and its perfect coda “The Stars & I (Mama’s Song).” It’s here that Moorer pays tribute to her fondest childhood days growing up with older sister, musician and singer Shelby Lynne, while honoring the memory of her mother.
“I’ve mined the territory of my childhood several times, but I really wanted to explore some of the more sweet memories that I have because I’ve never really done that before,” she says. “It’s sort of a history lesson for myself. It has a really child-like melody intentionally. I wrote it on piano, I couldn’t have written it on anything except a piano. It was my first instrument and it’s the soundtrack to my childhood. I always had my hands on the piano, and it saved me in a lot of ways. I’ve come back to it now and I’m very thankful for itbecause in a way it helped me stay innocent then. It makes me feel like I did when I was a kid making up tunes.”
Also returning to the fold is guitarist Joe McMahan, a former member of Moorer’s road band for Miss Fortune, and bassist Brad Jones, who contributed to Getting Somewhere.
Crows is wholeheartedly real -- its spirit is tangible and each lyric could belong to anyone. Moorer’s look inward is pure and without hesitation, all while she’s exploring what could exist outside of one’s soul.