In the music press, it was Allison Moorer's big sister, Shelby Lynne, who was the bee's knees last year. Lynne's surprising resurrection after years of major-label mediocrity made for good copy, and My Name Is Shelby Lynne (Island) was admittedly a great record--but it couldn't hold a candle to Moorer's nearly perfect and sadly ignored The Hardest Part (MCA), the best mainstream country record I heard all year. Of course, just because a record is released by the Nashville division of a major label doesn't mean it sounds mainstream, and Moorer's album didn't get the necessary radio play--it had way too much personality. The songs, all originals written with her husband Doyle Primm, address sticky romantic situations with heartstring-tugging depth--and without the requisite happy endings offered by automatons like Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Made with a cast of excellent sidemen, including Buddy Miller (see separate Critic's Choice) and ex-Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett, The Hardest Part is a masterful and cohesive survey of rock-informed country styles: the title track, a frank, straight-up honky-tonk meditation on the enduring pain of memory, features the killer lines "The hardest part of living is loving / 'Cause loving turns to leaving every time / And the hardest part of leaving is living"; "It's Time I Tried" is country soul swaddled in strings a la Dusty Springfield's famous Memphis sessions; "Think It Over" is hooky country rock; and "No Next Time" features twangy, tidied-up Crazy Horse-style guitar soloing. Moorer plays two intimate shows here; Sally Timms opens the first and Bennett opens the second. Sunday, September 16, 7 and 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marina Chavez.