Allison Moorer – Loving, Leaving, Living
3. It’s time I tried
Music from Nashville, Allison Moorer’s adopted home, gets a bad rap in these pages and elsewhere, and struggles to earn it. In many ways this reflects enduring discord within the city, and the South itself. The qualities of being Southern are carefully nurtured here, yet approval from north of the Mason-Dixon line — an audience largely unaware of the blessing they’re being asked to bestow — remains a curious obsession.
This underpins the business of making music in Nashville in much the same way that, for the musicians, Saturday night’s pickin’ ‘n’ drinkin’ has historically conflicted with Sunday morning’s prayin’ ‘n’ swayin’. Almost from the first night in 1925 when WSM began broadcasting and professionalizing hillbilly music — what became the Grand Ole Opry — the suits have been buying drinks down at the country club and apologizing to their monied peers for this music, and for the audience it served. While simultaneously asking trained musicians to dress down and to present themselves as unlettered hillbillies.
The Athens of the South — complete with a newly restored replica of the Parthenon — is particularly sensitive to matters of sophistication. Even though Nashville today boasts a second-rate symphony, no professional dance, no professional theater, and only the most modest of art museums, yes, even though the chamber of commerce calls it Music City, natives will go to great pains to remind newcomers that they don’t listen to country music, and never go to the Opry. Unless relatives from the North come visiting.
It is, in the end, a matter of class.
No wonder, then, that the pop crossover successes of Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill have been so joyously embraced. Not only is the sound of Nashville (as a German writer suggested to Chet Atkins) the music of coin jingling in one’s pocket, but at last they like it in New York. For a moment, anyway.
And yet: “On any given night,” says Moorer, who has made no attempt to revise her Alabama accent, “you can walk into at least one club in this town and hear something amazing.”
4. The best that I can do
Done with high school at 16, finished with the University of South Alabama at 20, Allison Moorer left Mobile for Nashville in 1993 to take a vacation.
“I was exhausted,” she remembers. “I had worked two jobs, I had gone to school full-time and ended up with a degree in public relations, of all things. I moved up here because Shelby lived here, and I didn’t want to get a job, so I started reading books.” Beginning with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin.
“Then I started reading Flannery O’Connor, who totally blew my mind,” she says. “And then Butch introduced me to Charles Bukowski. And Eudora Welty. Right now I’m reading Dorothy Parker, The Confederacy Of Dunces, and Bound For Glory [Woody Guthrie’s autobiography]. I’ve always got two or three going.”
Shelby, of course, was older sister Shelby Lynne, who in 1993 had just released her fourth album, Temptation. Since Allison had begun singing with Shelby in public at age 6, it was a short — if brief — step to joining big sister on tour that fall as a backup vocalist.
“I grew up a harmony singer,” she says. “That’s really what I consider myself. For years I didn’t want to get into the music business because I had seen sort of what it was all about. But, on the other hand, I had never really been exposed to music outside the mainstream.”