Allison Moorer – Her aim is true
“I do not claim to know anything about the music business,” says Allison Moorer. Seated inside a swanky conference room at MCA Records in Nashville, the lanky redhead seems cautious, even suspicious, of her glitzy surroundings. “It’s a strange thing to try to sell something to the masses that’s so personal.”
But the music business is ready to do just that with Moorer’s debut album, Alabama Song. And although the record isn’t due out until September 22, the kudos have already started rolling in. Much of the attention comes from Moorer’s brief on-screen appearance in Robert Redford’s ranch romance, The Horse Whisperer, in which she crooned “A Soft Place To Fall”. After the film’s release, Billboard proclaimed, “This debut marks the introduction of a stellar talent that could quickly become one of country music’s hottest new female voices.” The Austin American-Statesman went as far as to say “She already makes nearly every female singer in Nashville sound as though they have emphysema.”
Such praise hasn’t turned Moorer’s head. “It blows me away when people say stuff like that,” she says. “I’m happy, [but] I think if you concentrate on that stuff, and you think about what everybody thinks of it, that can be daunting. You can’t do that; you’ve gotta just do what you do. Because no matter what, as many people there are that say good things, there are going to be that many who say bad things. And if you pay attention to one side, you’ve gotta pay attention to the other side.”
So far, that negative “other side” has been mighty quiet, because one listen to Alabama Song justifies her hype. The album opens with “Pardon Me”, a languid country ballad written by Moorer and her husband Doyle “Butch” Primm (more on him later) that sounds like Moorer has been mainlining old Tammy Wynette and Connie Smith records.
“Long Black Train” and “The One That Got Away (Got Away With My Heart)” both have a wide-open Bakersfield feel that’d make Buck Owens proud, punctuated by guitars that snap and jangle. With a vocal assist from Buddy Miller on the latter, Moorer sings with an abandon rarely heard on country radio nowadays.
Then there’s the title song, a ballad that’s not what it appears to be. “When I started that song, Butch and I were living out in New Mexico,” Moorer admits. “I can honestly say I was homesick, but it turned out to be not even about Alabama. It’s really a love song without the word love in it.”
“Found A Letter” is a ’60s-style Tammy-at-the-Opry number, complete with the lush background vocals of an old Billy Sherrill production. The album’s first single, “Set You Free”, is a kiss-off song that suggests her dude can go get bent, because she’s got another waiting in the bedroom closet. In Moorer’s hands, “Set You Free” oozes sensuality with its swampy, Creedence-like groove. And even without exposure in The Horse Whisperer, “A Soft Place To Fall” would have caught the deafest of ears. Moorer sings it as if she’s lying on the pillow beside you, letting you down in the easiest way possible — who needs Kristin Scott Thomas, anyway?
Throughout Alabama Song, Moorer’s warm alto is a pure country instrument that slices open hearts and lays bare the ache inside. None of the slick, high-octane wallop of your Rebas and Mindys and Faiths. What’s more, Moorer co-wrote ten of the eleven tunes, each of them miniature passion plays that draw on the best traditions of Bakersfield and Music Row.
So how the hell did she get here? Moorer, 26, grew up in the hamlet of Frankville, Alabama, north of Mobile, with no aspirations to become a professional singer. Her older sister, Shelby Lynne, had that one sewn up; she eventually recorded several albums for Epic, Magnatone and Morgan Creek.
“We were both exposed to tons of music,” Allison recalls. “My mother was very musical and had an incredible ear. Our father was a musician. We lived and breathed music; it was in our house all the time.” However, tragedy struck in the mid-’80s when the girls’ father shot his wife during an argument and then turned the gun on himself. Shelby was left with the task of raising her younger sibling.
Though Allison prefers not to discuss the incident today (“That story’s been told”), lyrics like “I’ve heard it said life leaves you memories that are precious/If that’s true it hasn’t left me any yet” hint that the incident still casts a shadow. It most certainly colors her singing, which for all its creamy tones has a distinctively dark flavor.
After finishing college in Mobile, Moorer moved to Nashville and worked as a backup singer for her sister. “Shelby was always more serious about pursuing it as a career than I was,” Allison admits. “Basically I was raised a harmony singer and she was the lead singer. My seriousness about a career didn’t occur until I started writing songs, which was about four years ago.” She also did some demo singing (“I didn’t get called a ton; maybe I just sound too much like myself”) and met songwriter Doyle “Butch” Primm, with whom she hooked up in both songwriting and matrimony.