april 2008

Allison Moorer
New Line Records

Hmm. In this tribute to female songwriters, Allison Moorer's self-penned title song, rich in strings, southern soul and a sultry Jim Hoke sax solo, is arguably the best song of all. Singing in her most provocative, smoky Southern drawl, Moorer knocks it out of the park. Produced by Buddy Miller, Mockingbird has atmosphere to burn, with shifting, swirling instrumental textures, a discreet use of electronics, and an admirably judicious use of strings to wring that extra bit of smoldering sensuality out of, say, a deliberately rendered inquisition into "Ring of Fire" or to enhance the winsome mood Moorer adopts in reinvigorating Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." Other tunes demand a tougher approach. So it is that the surefire band stomps with dedicated fury in punching out a dynamically gripping rendition of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot," as Moorer digs into the lyrics with a forceful attack and a bruised but open heart. Hubby Steve Earle, on electric guitar, leads a low-down, gutbucket foray into the raw blues of Ma Rainey's brutal kissoff tune, "Daddy Goodbye Blues," on which Moorer delivers a swaggering, blustery vocal incantation summoning the spirit of a woman scorned but hanging on to a thread of hope. Another blues, Nina Simone's "A Little Sugar In My Bowl," which appropriates the melody and lyrical contours of a like-titled Bessie Smith number, is dressed up in the rich colors emanating from a small electric combo, with a rich B3 at its center adding some heft to Moorer's bold entreaties for sexual gratification. And how not to take note of Moorer's moody, hesitant reading of a stark, acoustic-based take on big sister Shelby Lynne's devastating chronicle of an inert life, "She Knows Where She Goes"? Less Moorer originals has not produced lesser Moorer. Mockingbird is a winner.—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024