I've never quite understood why it's so compelling to compare the texture of a voice to something completely unrelated to hearing, but for whatever reason, Allison Moorer's voice always reminds me of the hot whiskey and honey my dad gave me when we were out of cough syrup. It was good and sweet and perhaps just a little bit forbidden. One teaspoon — well, maybe two if I asked real nice or coughed real hard — warmed my chest and made the room look better, as proper music should.
Since her 1998 debut album, Alabama Song, Nashville's sultriest crooner-songwriter has been busy trying to figure out how to navigate the topiary maze that is commercial country music. When an album as gorgeous as that one sells only about 57,000 copies nationwide, all bets are off in the logic department. Her latest effort, Miss Fortune, is just more evidence of Moorer's prodigious talents as a writer and singer of cool, literate, soulful southern songs. This one's gussied up with a surfeit of strings, brass, and choruses of angels, but they're not too bothersome.
Drinking, traveling, gambling, loving and losing — it's all here in spades. Of note is the spare, sad "Can't Let Go" — not remotely the same song as the Lucinda Williams rocker of the same name. Unadorned language, simple melody, universal truth: all you need. But don't get too contemplative. Up next is the raucous storysong "Ruby June," full-up with child prostitution, rape, murder, and a hangin'.
"Up This High" is the album's nod to the gods of radio, but it still manages to keep its integrity intact. Moorer kicks it out in "I'm Going Down," the vocals mixed way back like a banshee's echo.
Canny songstress that she is, Moorer twists the knife with the final cut, the creepy little "Dying Breed." With its sinister bass line front and center, Moorer sings with resignation about the inevitability of self-destruction. It's a masterpiece.
You'll probably find Miss Fortune in the country section of your record store, but friends, neighbors, and Ann Arborites, there's good news: it's no longer cool to hate country blindly. Country is not one thing, one music. It's huge and complicated and rich. There's the dross, sure: this is America and dross rules. But behind that resides a host of amazing, inventive artists as distinct as their own fingerprints and steeped in this nation's varied musical history. Allison Moorer is just one of many. She'll be at the Ark on Monday, September 9, more than happy to begin, or continue, your education.