Sure must be nice to be Allison Moorer. As if the success of her Grammy-winning sister Shelby Lynne wasn't enough, the Alabama native is also married to alt-country legend Steve Earle and has been nominated for an Academy Award for her contribution "A Soft Place to Fall," which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer. Last year, she was nominated for a Grammy for her work on her husband's 2008 album Washington Square Serenade, and while Sheryl Crow made it ubiquitous, Moorer, the single's original singer, made quite a dent on country radio with the Kid Rock duet, "Picture."
On her sleepy and sedate new album Crows, her eighth and first on Rkyodisc, she seems to settle into a landscape of softness, dotting her album with only three upbeat numbers and ten (yep, ten) ballads. Thankfully though, most of it is done well, thanks in part to the deft production of R.S Field (John Mayall, Billy Joe Shaver). Aside from throwaways, "Should I Be Concerned" and "It's Gonna Feel Good" much of Birds is absolutely ravishing. Take for example the bare piano ballad "Easy in the Summertime," or the jangly "The Broken Girl."
Though the disc starts off unhurried and threatens to dawdle, the gentle lilt of "Goodbye to the Ground," makes for one of Moorer's most creative efforts to date. The matriarchal ballad, "The Stars and I (Mama's Song)" is equally compelling as the song's first 90 seconds features ethereal instrumentation and a gauzy veneer not unlike Jann Arden. Other high points include the chill-inducing "Like the Rain," and the torch ballad "When You Wake Up Feeling Bad."
Since her 1998 debut Alabama Song, Moorer has always earned raves for the intimacy of her delivery and the poignancy of its timbre. These attributes are felt most on the panged, "When You Wake Up Feeling Bad," and the equally wrenching, "Sorrow (Don't Come Around)." And though Crows has its fair shake of heartache, it is not without its optimism. Penultimate track "It's Gonna Feel Good," points to the period at which a woman can confidently break free from emptiness, while title track and album closer "Crows," candidly admits, "I guess a few crows in the backyard is better than bats in the belfry."
Ten years into a much-lauded career, Moorer seems to understand her songwriting niche and seems supremely comfortable with her place. And while the understated, simplicity of Crows is at times underwhelming, its hard to argue with a voice as soothing and as striking as hers.