Allison Moorer Opens Up and Sheds Some Blood

A revealing memoir and its spare soundtrack brings the singer face to face with her dark family history

Allison Moorer / Photo by Heidi Ross

Albums that deal with deeply personal situations naturally tend to be insular affairs.

Oftentimes they’re so focused on trouble and turmoil that they threaten to exclude the listener from any actual involvement. Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band (plus, for that matter, his two early albums with Yoko) were wholly self-absorbed narratives dealing with painful circumstance. The anguish and agony were palatable, making for a less than easy encounter.

Naturally, that’s an artist’s right. Exorcising demons and/or venting in general are often seen as a legitimate form of creative expression. Ostensibly, the motivation lies in sharing lessons learned. However, when the purpose is simply to detail past trauma, the artist has to hope that his or her listener is so thoroughly engaged that they’re willing to stick around for what promises to be a tumultuous ride. It can be a gamble at best, one that pits the performer’s popularity against whatever darker designs they’re willing to share.

The reality is that most people have their own demons tucked away in their inner psyches. Hard truths force difficult encounters. Yes, there can be lessons learned by witnessing the traumas faced by others, especially those who have the ability to easily seize the spotlight. But more than likely, the takeaway seems to be the fact that we sometimes feel better when our heroes seem to suffer worse than we do by comparison.

Allison Moorer Blood, Thirty Tigers 2019

That’s a cynical aside of course, but it’s still a factor.

Which brings us to Allison Moorer’s deeply confessional new album Blood.  A companion piece to her forthcoming memoir of the same name, it finds her relating the tragic circumstances of her childhood, specifically her father’s murder of her mother and his subsequent suicide, a horror she and her now equally famous sister Shelby Lynne were forced to witness while children. Naturally, the event seared her consciousness, making it a memory she could never shed. 

As a result, Blood becomes an uncompromising encounter, shockingly intimate, haunting and even harrowing by design. It’s a visceral proviso, built around stark and simple arrangements consisting of little more than acoustic guitar and Moorer’s plaintive, yet impassioned vocals. She doesn’t dwell on her anguish, but instead turns her turbulent tapestry into a tale of singular survival, even in that most horrific happenstance. The innocence of Moorer as the small child pictured on the album cover emphasizes the tragedy she had to bear, a snapshot in times that contrasts with the enormity of the event that changed her life. The title itself has a double meaning — a reminder of ties that bind as well as a visual image of the unimaginable act itself. 

Allison Moorer’s stunning new memoir Blood is in stores now

While such tender and touching offerings as “Bad Weather,”  “Cold, Cold Earth” and “Nightlight” are all expressions of somber sentiment, Blood finds Moorer singing mostly singing about redemption as well as forgiveness, for her father and, indeed, for herself. The determined delivery accompanying “I’m The One To Blame,” “Blood,” “All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway),” “Heal,” and “Set My Soul Free” offer emphatic examples, but the sentiment could also be summed up in a single verse from the tellingly titled “Set My Soul Free” in which she sings:

“Why do I carry what isn’t mine
Can I take the good and leave the rest behind /
Can I let go and watch it all unwind / Can I untie the ties that bind?”

Contrite and confessional, Blood is one of the single most revealing albums in recent memory, a genuinely affecting effort in context and concept. It’s a vivid revelation spawned from a reality of profound proportion, a connection courageously shared as well.

 

VIDEO: Allison Moorer Live AXPONA 2019

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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