Ian Moore – Beyond the blues
Ian Moore’s Got The Green Grass was the sound of an artist breaking free from the record-industry box. Released on Moore’s own label, Hablador, in 1999, it was his personalized resurrection after a four-year absence from the record racks.
Capricorn Records had signed the Austin, Texas, prodigy barely out of his teens in the early ’90s and released three albums by Moore from 1993 to ’95 (his self-titled debut, Live From Austin, and Modernday Folklore). Capricorn sought to capitalize on the flashy and distinctive blues guitar licks Moore had cultivated since age 15 — but the label might not have counted on Moore’s left-of-center lyric sensibilities, his Soul Stirrer-era Sam Cooke vocal propensities, his taste for Brian Eno sonics, and the formidable influence of his onetime boss, Joe Ely.
Green Grass, which expressed Moore’s freedom from his former label, as well as his move from Austin to the Seattle-area island community of Vashon, through a hodge-podge of extremes. Its songs thrust stridently into folky acoustic; straight-outta-Abbey-Road pop; guttural, raged profanity a la Tom Waits; a coulda-been-a-Nirvana tribute; and a New Orleans street-corner rag. Little more than a chord or three was left behind of the anticipated Stevie Ray Vaughn-clone career.
Wherever Moore thought he was headed when he slammed that door, he arrived in style with And All The Colors, released in March on Koch Records. It’s a sprawling, masterful synthesis of his almost omnivorous taste into a cohesive, compelling statement that’s all his own.
Moore first picked up a guitar in hopes of emulating artists who had enthralled him since his parents began taking him along to Austin nightclubs when he was just seven. “I grew up going to clubs,” he says, recalling his opportunities to witness “the great soul bands like the Meters and Wild Tchoupitoulas, Professor Longhair, Bobby Blue Bland, Willie Nelson. Doug Sahm at that point was doing phenomenal stuff in the mid-’70s.”
By age 25, Moore had recorded and toured extensively with Joe Ely, and, with his own band, had opened for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and ZZ Top. “I did get starstruck sometimes, but mostly I just kind of look at it as all part of an education,” he says. “I never was the one partying; I was the one goin’ home and practicing and writing songs when I was on those trips because I was inspired.”
Only Joe Ely got him in trouble. “Joe Ely taught me so much. I blame Joe Ely for all the struggles I have in my career. Touring with him and seeing all the trials and stuff he went through, and that he survived, he’s the one that made me want to do music the way I wanted to do it, despite what anybody else thought.”
If Ely taught him to dance to his own drummer, Moore had to work at finding the groove. “It took me a long time to learn how to play guitar the way I wanted to,” he says. “And it’s taken me a long time to sing. And I guess now finally I’m comfortable enough to where I can just work on being myself.”
Songwriting presented a different kind of challenge. “There was a real disparity when I was young,” he explains. “I was into hard blues and rockabilly and punk rock, kinda rootsy punk rock — and then I would write these songs and they would sound like the Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel.
“Lyrically, when I was young, every song was just trying to pour out my emotion in this very raw way, and there’s something really pretty about that. But I think I’m learning how to tell stories a little bit more, with a little bit more distance sometimes which even makes them a little more honest.”
Moore allows that while maturity has made his thinking more complex, experience has taught him to express it more simply, leaving room for the listener’s own interpretation. His favorite song on the new record is a case in point. The powerful “Retablo” traces a supplicant’s downward spiral into desperation, his guilt made heavier and the recognition of his sins more vast as he observes an icon of St. Teresa, its deterioration emblematic of his own. “It takes me to a really nice place,” Moore says of the song. “It’s dark, but it’s nice.”
In fact, practically all the colors on the record are dark, thematically underscored by almost threatening swells of instrumentation and by prominent bass lines. The thoughtful and detail-conscious instrumentation and production propels And All the Colors far in front of Moore’s earlier efforts.
For this, he’s quick to credit those who worked with him on the project: “It’s not just that my vision got a lot better, which it did, but the people around me did as well,” he says. Among those people were multi-instrumentalist Mark Addison (who co-produced the record with Moore and Joe Chiccarelli), longtime collaborator Bukka Allen on keys, George Reiff on bass, J.J. Johnson on drums, Nina Singh on percussion, Jon Dee Graham on lap steel, Brian Standefer on cello, and the string quartet Tosca. Besides guitar, Moore himself plays eight instruments, including violin, bouzouki, sitar and piano.
But the spotlight is on his voice, to which his guitar is now firmly subservient. Moore’s singing is expressive, genre-bending and, for all its beauty, utterly artless. “I wanted to be a really good singer,” he says, “and instead of just going, ‘This is my voice,’ I went, ‘I’m gonna learn how to sing.’ My voice might be prettier than Tom Waits’ now, but [it’s] just as real when I sing.
“I had to find that.”