Having masqueraded as a country singer around the turn of the millennium and as a duchess for the last few years, Allison Moorer has taken stock of her life and comes up with a stunning album that will have both punters and critics drooling. DOWN TO BELIEVING will thrill, excite, move and entertain, especially if savoured within the context of Allison’s career and life over the last twenty odd years. No doubt it will be billed as a break up album, but this record is much more than this exhausted concept with the writing, themes, musical direction and passionate delivery reflecting a number of key inputs.
From a personal perspective, sitting triumphantly amongst the last few years of Allison’s career was witnessing her transfix the audience at Leicester’s Big Sessions Festival with a memorable version of her humble home state masterpiece ‘Alabama Song’. It was the album of the same name which launched Allison onto Nashville’s country scene in 1998 and a reunion with key producer and influence from those commercial years in Kenny Greenberg has been instrumental in harnessing her current outburst of creative passion. A significant rock injection moves the record clearly in the direction of alt-country/Americana as Allison’s southern vocal elegance wraps around 13 tracks equally adept as stand-alone numbers or in the entity of a complete album.
While history suggests there was an element of inevitability in its conclusion, Allison praises the influence of marriage to Steve Earle in reforming her song writing skills and she has certainly put them to the test in the process of putting together this release. ‘Tear Me Apart’ and ‘If I Were Stronger’ get the formal nod as directly influenced by the break up and surely the resolute ‘I’m Doing Fine’ joins the club with the cutting lyric “If you want your old guitar, it’s sitting out on the porch.” However the title track 'Down to Believing' heads the break up sequence and is equally as impressive in sentiment as it is in listener reception. Maybe the track ‘I Lost My Crystal Ball’ also has its origins in the unforeseen events that have unfolded in her life .
These include the diagnosis of her son’s autism which is forcibly dealt with in the aggressive and no doubt therapeutic ‘Mama Let the Wolf In’. A strong bond throughout Allison’s life has been her singer-song writing older sister Shelby Lynne and she pays the utmost respect to this in the song ‘Blood’. A lifelong relationship surely strengthened by the tragic loss of both their parents at a young age. However the album does take one significant break from the rigours of autobiographical life with a surprisingly decent cover version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s monster classic ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’.
On an album that is optimally constructed in song order, this well-chosen tribute to iconic southern rock takes its place as the penultimate track, almost in first encore position and leaving space for Allison to slow matters thoughtfully down in the closing number, ‘Gonna Get it Wrong’. In contrast the album opens in an explosive and fiery manner suggesting an inner release of Allison to finally get this important project underway. ‘Like it Used to be ‘is a full fronted bout of aggression and chosen to be the album’s flagship track, although perhaps the true soul is found later in the record. ‘Thunderstorm/Hurricane’ is the ideal follow up song as it ebbs and flows in pace with a simple song structure rampant in parts.
Like so many outstanding recent releases by her peers (Rosanne/Lucinda/Gretchen et al), each song is underpinned by a multitude of impressive sounds blending guitars, keyboards and more roots induced instruments. Ultimately the quality of the song and the powerful force of the artist define the record and Allison Moorer possibly takes the listener back to 2000’s HARDEST PART in terms of impact.
On an album where a disappointing track is nowhere to be seen, there is no malice in commenting on ‘Back of My Mind’ and ‘Wish I‘ last. The former opens with the most explicit piece of acoustic strumming on the album thus a slight deviation from the rock/ballad prominence while the latter has a familiar ring to it without quite figuring out where. However both are a continuation of the strong make up which will seal the deal of this being one of the year’s most lauded Americana albums.
Whether you are a committed Allison Moorer admirer, one who has taken their eye off her ball over the last decade or completely new to her, DOWN TO BELIEVING is the album to unite all strands of her fan base and beyond. This is possibly a career piece of work and one that will set the standard of how to pour your life into a project and come up trumps in the musical stakes.