Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Allison Moorer Interview - Moorer Stretches Out with Crows

Allison Moorer's 2010 album, Crows.
Last Year, I reviewed Allison Moorer’s CD Crows for The Boston Globe. It was one of my early favorites for best album of the year when it was released in February, and remained so throughout the year. There was something different about Crows, Moorer's follow-up to her covers album, Mockingbird. Even though she was working with frequent producer R.S. Field again, the songs sounded different, and the lyrics were different as well, in some subtle way, from Moorer’s previous work. There is a story here, or at the very least a progression, with the narrator starting on her knees in “Abalone Sky” and ending up looking back at how she survived in “Crows,” the closing song.

After the review, Moorer was kind enough to agree to an e-mail interview. Because of a personal illness, I was not able to tend to the Curmudgeon for a while, and the interview was never published, until now. As I publish this, Moorer is planning her first album together with her sister, Shelby Lynne, and getting ready to go on tour with husband Steve Earle when he releases his next album, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

So if you haven’t listened to Crows in a while, or you never caught up with it, now is the time to fire it up, and to read what Moorer has to say about it.

Did you write and arrange this album specifically to be a departure from your previous work?

I’ve never consciously decided to “depart” from any album, or an style of music I’ve explored. I’ve just followed my path and have done what felt right at the time. It has not been calculated. However, I knew that I was exploring some new territory on this album, from the poetics in the songs to the musicality of them, to the way I sang them. I think that’s okay to do, and if you’re not growing and changing, are you really doing your work as an artist?

Did you work with R.S. Field any differently this time out?

One of the great things about working with R.S. on this record was that we already have a “language” – we know how to communicate with one another, so there was no guesswork as far as that part of making the record was concerned. I didn’t want to have to get over that communication hurdle, so that was one reason why I asked him to produce it. Plus, he’s really great. The only thing that was different from the other records we’ve made together is maybe that we had the most fun doing this one than any of the others.

Did any of the artists you covered on Mockingbird influence your writing or performing on Crows?

Absolutely! Though I can’t and won’t analyze how, if you don’t mind.

Are your influences as a singer different from your influences as a songwriter?

That’s a very good question – I’ve never really thought about it that way. I guess I like all kinds of singers – from the traditionally “great” voices to the singer/songwriter voices that may not be thought of as classically beautiful. At the end of the day, I like artists that move me, and there is something good and informative to find in all the music that moves me.

Someone may be surprised to learn that I consider Astrud Gilberto and Chet Baker influences on my singing because they both sing/sang so softly, but it’s about the economy they used. Dinah Washington was also a really economical singer though she had a much bigger voice and more sheer vocal presence than the previous two I mentioned. But just because a singer influences your own singing doesn’t mean you try to sound like them. The same goes for songwriting, I believe –you can have an influence, but the listener may never pick up on it.

I got the sense of an arc on Crows, or at least certain stages – a reticence at the beginning, questioning in the middle, reminiscence, resolution, and then a postscript in Crows, looking back from a healthier place. Was that purposeful, or am I reading too much into it?

There is definitely a beginning, middle, and end to the record. For me, it’s a song cycle – not one as literal as I did on The Hardest Part, but it’s there if you’re listening, which you obviously were!

Were you conscious of how fans might react to a less twangy sound?

I didn’t really know I wasn’t being twangy. But I guess I never considered myself to be twangy in the first place. I sound country from time to time, but I can’t help that, and don’t guess I would if I could. That wouldn’t be honest, now would it?

“Should I Be Concerned” stands out to me, vocally. Was there a particular source of inspiration for it?

I wanted to write a big time, pull out all of the stops dramatic ballad. The inspiration was, believe it or no, poking fun at being down in the dumps. Sometimes you have to laugh at your own funk to pull yourself out of it.

Are you in a groove with this new sound? Is it something you think you’ll stick with for another album or two?

Oh my goodness. I never know what I’m going to do next. It frustrates the hell out of my audience! God bless them for sticking with me.


No comments: