Allison Moorer has never fit in with Wal-Mart fembots like Shania Twain and Faith Hill, but she did give it the old college try on two albums for MCA, baiting country radio with mushy romantic lyrics and soft-rock production touches. The programmers didn't bite, and now Moorer seems to have taken their disinterest as a license to follow her own path. Her new album, Miss Fortune, is on Universal South, an outsider-country label launched by MCA Nashville honcho Tony Brown--apparently inspired by the success Mercury's Lost Highway imprint has had with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, and the O, Brother sound track. The liner notes stress that "absolutely no vocal tuning or pitch correction"--the stuff they do to make the likes of J. Lo sound good--was used on the record, and Moorer's tough but silky voice has never sounded more nuanced or expressive. Far more than she has previously dared, she takes her cues from 70s country pop, crafting a cozy blend of pretty singer-songwriter rock and blue-eyed Memphis soul with just a few traces of Nashville twang. On many of the album's 13 songs, all originals, restrained string arrangements soften the already gentle rhythms--but "Going Down" has a raunchy Exile on Main Street vibe, and "Ruby Jewel Was Here" is a sassy swinger a la "Ode to Billie Joe." Most of the lyrics find relatively fresh ways to lament failed relationships and loneliness, though there are a few cliches--"What happened to the world we painted / The masterpiece of me and you," she sings on "Tumbling Down." The album closes with "Dying Breed," whose themes of addiction and predestination put it well within the classic country tradition but make it about 20 shades too dark for radio. (Moorer, whose father murdered her mother and then killed himself, leaving her to be raised by big sister Shelby Lynne, laments, "No one grows old / In this household / We are a dying breed.") With any luck, it'll serve as the final nail in the coffin of her old Nashville persona. Saturday, September 7, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marina Chavez.