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Monday, April 5, 2010

Allison Moorer

Crows (Rykodisc)

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Making a near-perfect B-side to Johnny Cash’s posthumous meditation on death, American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Allison Moorer's eighth studio release comes on like just another neo-Nashville croonfest, taking its time to reveal the brooding layers of grief, damage and ennui. Sure, Crows is occasionally lovely, and comes from a member ranking among the living, but as a whole it feels as troubled as anything out of the mouth of the Man in Black.

Wooing listeners to “lead me to the ledge and let me dangle from a limb” on the opener, before moving to the apt-titled “Goodbye to the Ground,” Moorer is backed by the standard bare-bones, tears-in-beers modern country outfit. But it’s hard to imagine Emmylou Harris ever feeling this bad. Pianos, warbly guitars, a dobro here, a string section there, and a general Rick Rubin-like haze underlie Moorer’s hard-up voice. Slowly traversing many a sordid mile, the singer offers a take on weepy Americana that is starker than a Cormac McCarthy landscape, and every bit as haunted.

It's easy to correlate Moorer’s personal demons—her father killed her mother in a murder/suicide—but her sadness seems well removed from anything resembling pity. In truth, an optimist could take most here to be the remains of just a messy breakup. Either way, it's an expansive, empathetic look at people and pain.