Album Review – Allison Moorer’s “Blood”
Putting one’s personal story into song is the timeless way to deliver music with resonance and lasting impact irrespective of whatever trends are hip in popular music, or whatever current events are roiling the world. That is what legacy Americana singer and songwriter Allison Moorer has done with her latest record, Blood. The inspiration for this record was so personal, it was paired with a memoir of her life of the same name, and select tour dates have featured Allison both performing the music, and talking about the book with crowds and guest moderators.
Americana music and many of it’s proprietors are having a mood in 2019. Compelled to speak about the current social climate, and swept up in this fashionable notion of not wanting to be hemmed in by genre has resulted in a few really compelling projects, and many records that felt bogged down in process and intent as opposed to just letting inspiration take control and compiling quality songs and recordings. Allison Moorer bucks this trend on Blood by simply putting pen to paper and letting the mood of the music choose its own direction, not overthinking the process and trying to reinvent the wheel, and delivering a record that reverberates no matter your tastes or ideological leanings, separating itself from the very cluttered Americana congregation.
Not everyone’s life story would make for such an engrossing read or listen, but Allison Moorer’s certainly does. Born and raised in Southern Alabama, her parents were killed in a murder suicide in 1986. To say Allison and her sister and fellow performer Shelby Lynne grew up in a troubled household feels almost like an indignity to the severity of their situation. So when Moorer sings a song like “Cold Cold Earth” that could be mistaken for a Hank Williams murder ballad if it weren’t ripped from Allison’s personal narrative, it means more crossing over her lips.
This isn’t mimicry or cosplay. This is raw and honest stories and emotions, set to music that in most instances is intimate and acoustic, but is also willing to call upon soul and Heartland rock influences now often included under the umbrella of Americana. You don’t hear this record, you listen, and are rewarded with little lessons from someone with the authority to teach them. Blood is not just a biographical account, it’s about how to move on and heal from the harrowing and sometimes unjust experiences in one’s life, and do it not just by auditory expression to unburden yourself, but through admitting your own mistakes and frailties as opposed to making excuses for them.
Ten years after the passing of her parents, Moorer followed her sister Shelby Lynne to Nashville, and while playing a tribute show at the Ryman Auditorium, was discovered by famed producer Tony Brown, best known for his work with Reba McEntire and George Strait, eventually signing Moorer to MCA Nashville. But like so many of the founding mothers and fathers of Americana music, Moorer’s songs were too deep, and too touching to find favor in the commercial enclaves of Music City, and she eventually ended up on Sugar Hill and now Thirty Tigers.
Allison Moorer’s name may not be as well known as someone like Lucinda Williams, but her life and career are as intertwined with the legacy of Americana as anyone’s. Along with her work with sister Shelby, she was the better half of Steve Earle for a while, and is now playing house with Hayes Carll, who is one of those few Americana names in 2019 who figured out how to navigate this unsteady time in American society successfully in his record What It Is.
But Allison Moorer is the one turning in a late career effort that feels incredibly fresh, sharp, fierce, and defining, despite the limited scope of much of the production, and the title song first appearing on her 2015 record Down To Believing. Officially, this record is a companion to her memoir, not vice versa. So perhaps consuming the record along with the written work would make up for a certain thinness in the arrangement that renders some moments a little hard to remain attentive to. But even standing alone, Blood feels like a stellar work of songwriting worthy of receiving your attention.
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Purchase Blood from Allison Moorer
December 2, 2019 @ 11:07 am
Thanks for the review.
I plan to listen to this today.
But Southern Alabama should be properly referred to as Lower Alabama.
Or simply LA.
G Harp and a Larrivee
December 2, 2019 @ 11:23 am
“When the only LA I knew was lower Alabama
Back when me and Hannah was wishing on a southern star…”
December 2, 2019 @ 11:57 am
Alison and Shelby Lynne are , IMO , two of the most unique and gifted vocalists around . Both have taken the ‘indie’ route . Shelby’s album ” Temptaion ” ( ’91 ?) is a musical monster from the superior songwriting to the musicianship and arrangements and her absolute clinic in how to interpret and SELL a song vocally -an all time favourite of mine.
Afterwards , Shelby wrote most if not all of her material , as did Alison, and like so many singers who have the vocal goods but not the writing gifts , I think both of these women have done their careers a disservice in doing so . Arguably Shelby’s finest release in the past 10 years was her album of covers ” Just A Little Lovin'” . BECAUSE OF HE WRITING ….
The two songs above have done nothing to change my opinion of Alison , in terms of writing talents . I’m peripherally familiar with most of her albums having listened at least once to each and as quickly forgotten them . I’m not suggesting that she hasn’t written some very personal , honest and substance-filled songs . But as with Shelby , this work is acquired taste , IMO . It seems decidedly nondescript on all fronts .
These two songs are not particularly well crafted lyrically , unique melodically or musically interesting ….and maybe that isn’t the point . Maybe they are just there to serve the story . And perhaps they do a good job of that . But for me , both of these women have needed much more solid songwriting , production and arrangement input than they’ve allowed on just about all of their work in the past decade or so …and earlier for Shelby . These seem more like vanity projects than anything else . Again …all good if that’s what you’re about .
For myself , I think both of these artists could have and should have been huge factors in popular music had they not tried to be chief cook and bottlewasher in their respective efforts . They are OK writers ….they are not GREAT writers .They both need experienced songwriting help and someone with the ears to recognize how underused their REAL strengths -their vocal gifts – have consistently been and how best to serve those gifts and the song ideas informing them .
There are far, far too many forgettable and inconsequential songs written today and I , for one , am disappointed when I hear voices like Alison’s and Shelby’s wasted on these kinds of songs . But hey ….’ more power to ’em ‘ .
December 2, 2019 @ 12:04 pm
I was a huge fan of Moore from Alabama Song to Miss Fortune (the latter my AOY in 2002). But since The Duel, she lost me. I was very surprised when I streamed Blood. I never knew “Cold Cold Earth” had a title. It was the hidden track The Hardest Part and I remember her ending a concert playing it and everyone looking around not knowing what to do next.
I also heard “Blood” before too.
I thought this album would be the one album on my year end list not on Trig’s.
December 2, 2019 @ 12:18 pm
I am looking forward to reading the book. The last Moorer project I really enjoyed was ” Show.”
December 2, 2019 @ 12:31 pm
The majority of tracks are slowtempo. Faster but not better are “The Rock & The Hill” & “All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway)”.
Allison Moorer shines on the two last tracks: “Blood” & “Heal”.
“Heal” will be a late entry for my song of the year.
December 2, 2019 @ 2:54 pm
Good album. It’s mood music, though. Not something I can see having in my rotation on a regular basis, but when you feel that way, it’ll be there.
December 2, 2019 @ 8:14 pm
As a long time fan, I was already familiar with Allison’s music and story. (I am also a big time Shelby Lynne fan, since her first radio tour to promote her debut album.) But I digress… I attended Allison’s show in Vienna, VA in November which included a moderated discussion of the book, some readings from the book by Allison, and solo acoustic performances of nearly all of the songs from the new CD (album). I didn’t read the book until afterwards, so I gained additional insights into the book’s contents from the discussion. Allison performed her “Alabama Song” and “A Soft Place to Fall” in addition to the new songs. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the CD – and the show. Overall I think the 8/10 rating is very fair and deserved.
December 3, 2019 @ 7:27 am
This is the first album from Allison Moorer since 2004’s The Duel that I am enthusiastic about. This wasn’t an automatic purchase for me as I’ve been a bit cool on her last few albums. Like them but don’t love them. I came across a review in American Songwriter a couple of weeks after its release that called Blood a masterpiece and so I figured I should at least give it a listen. Bought it and the book shortly thereafter. Will start on the book today. And the simple arrangements are a plus for me. Her singing just knocks me out.
Oh, and I liked the call out to Kathleen Edwards early in the first song Bad Weather. I miss her and I hope we get some new music from her some day.
December 4, 2019 @ 3:44 am
I believe Kathleen Edwards recently announced she is coming out of retirement
December 5, 2019 @ 9:23 pm
Wow. You always hear on the news about men killing their lovers and committing suicide, but it’s not often that you meet someone or hear of a well-known person who was a child of such an environment.
I’m a long-time Steve Earle fan, but didn’t he complain that Allison dumped him for a singer who’s younger but less talented than him. Them’s the breaks. She was only his 6th wife or something.