Dave Moore – Nine years later, but better late than never
Dave Moore has been something of an enigma throughout his career. A singer of great warmth, resonance and passion, a songwriter of startling clarity, and a masterful musician on guitar, harmonica and button accordion, Moore, has nevertheless remained in the ‘best kept secret’ category for much of the music world outside of his native Eastern Iowa.
After a couple years in college, Moore spent the bulk of the ’70s traveling through Latin America and the American South and West, soaking in a wide range of musical influences along the way. A return to the Midwest in the early ’80s led to touring and recording with Greg Brown and frequent appearances on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion”.
Moore made his recorded debut in 1985 with Jukejoints & Cantinas, on Twin Cities folk label Red House Records. A dizzying, otherworldly collection of country blues, gospel and Conjunto classics, Jukejoints showcased Moore’s knack for breathing new life into time-worn material. Recorded live in the studio with a copacetic rhythm section, Jukejoints & Cantinas brings to mind what The Sun Sessions might have sounded like if it had been laid down in Austin with Flaco Jimenez along for the ride.
Throughout this period, Moore’s live performances reflected his mercurial, broadly scattered interests. Whether solo or in groups of varied size and configuration, any night’s performance could bring an evening of rollicking Tex-Mex dance numbers, a brace of original folk material, or, on occasion, a romp through stomping blues on guitar and harmonica. Such unpredictable eclecticism made his shows a treat for devoted music aficionados, but tended to confuse the perceptions of casual observers.
In 1990, Red House released Over My Shoulder, which introduced seven original tunes by Moore and a handful of tough covers from Buck Owens to Bukka White. Improved recording facilities and Moore’s development as a singer combined to display a softer, more expressive vocal technique, with Moore’s distinct tremolo surfacing on record for the first time. Bemused, worldly and comfortingly resigned to the planet’s vagaries, Over My Shoulder earned critical acclaim (including a spot on Pulse magazine’s top-10 folk records of 1990).
Fate, bad mojo, tragedy, life in general — whatever you care to call it — interrupted that upward arc, as Moore did not re-enter a studio for almost a decade. “What it was,” Moore recalls, “was just everything. Life just coming at you. I was touring after Over My Shoulder for two or three years, and that kept me fairly busy. And when I’d be back in Iowa I’d just be workin’ — just hittin’ the bars.”
In 1994, the Moores’ second daughter died a week after her birth, just as Dave was beginning to prepare for a third record. The project was shelved indefinitely. When he did begin to play again, he tended to stay closer to home.
Over time, that elusive “next record” plagued Moore to the point where he finally made it a combination of an in-joke and a tease at live performances. By spring of ’98, though, he felt he had to get back in the studio. A check with Red House head Bob Feldman reconfirmed the label’s standing offer to release Moore’s next record — whenever.
Iowa City roots-rocker Bo Ramsey had been set to produce Moore’s disc in ’94, but in the summer of ’98 he was touring in Lucinda Williams’ band. “I went up to the Twin Cities in late summer and looked at some studios with the idea of doing it with some people up there,” said Moore. “But as I looked at the studios, I felt like I needed some guidance.”
Ramsey, as it turned out, had just left the Williams tour, and the two old mates reconnected on the project after a luminous joint gig in September. A large part of the task was sorting through Moore’s massive accumulation of songs which, he admits, were “all over the map.” Settling on a core group of tunes that roughly documented Moore’s rollercoaster decade, they enlisted stellar Eastern Iowa veterans Rick Cicalo (bass), Steve Hayes (drums) and David Zollo (piano) and, after a couple of rehearsals, headed to Minneapolis for four days of recording at Pachyderm Studios.
The product of their efforts, Breaking Down To 3, is due out on Red House in late May or June. From its stunning “hey, world, I’m back!” opener (“Mr. Music”) to the healing, gospel-influenced closer “Down To The River”, the album is a sublime, moving tour-de-force. Examining the trials and joys of a family’s bumpy history with late-night intimacy, Moore bypasses cheap sentimentality and self-pity to conjure up some heaven-sent intersection of Don Williams, Harlan Howard and Johnny Cash, particularly on the transcendent “Magic Dust”: straight up, tight on the rail, no excuses.
“I’m just knocked out that we made a good record, you know?” Moore sums it up. “I mean, it’s been a long time.”