Allison Moorer Mockingbird Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A celebration of the strength of female songwriters and performers who've exerted a...

Sid Smith 2008

The revelatory heights of homage or the predictable pitfalls of parody are just two possible outcomes awaiting the artist undertaking a cover version. For every transcendent Hendrix-channelled All Along The Watchtower success there are the frankly execrable failures: Michael Bolton nose-diving into Dock Of The Bay, anyone? A whole album can therefore be a fraught affair where judgement against the high-watermark of the original is inevitable.

New-country star (and wife of Steve Earle), Moorer, has declared this album a celebration of the strength of female songwriters and performers who've exerted a benign influence upon her career, though without wanting to appear churlish, that claim might come as something of a surprise to the likes of Ivan Kraal, Bill Botrell, and Merle Kilgore and David Rawlings – each having had a hand in Dancing Barefoot, She Knows Where She Goes, Ring of Fire, and Time – The Revelator, respectively.

The safe pair of hands of veteran Buddy Miller works the controls over a cautious choice that fleetingly touches blues, soft rock harmonising and a liberal sprinkling of the new country slow-burning balladeering on which Moorer's reputation has been built.The psyche-tinged mellotron flutes, trip-hop affectations, and cold-water nu-folk austerity all show an admirable commitment to putting old wine into new bottles but the mixture is often fussy and lugubrious.

Although the old-time sonics of a vintage blues recording are wryly recreated for Ma Rainey's foot-stomping Daddy, Goodbye, Moorer's disciplined reading rarely goes beyond the obvious, and the lack of libidinous innuendo normally found in I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl is found wanting.

Joni Mitchell's Both Side Now has been parcelled up so many times into anodyne MOR-friendly chunks, the old-before-her-time pathos of the original is often lost. Whilst Moorer's attempt doesn’t quite fall into that category, her vocal here is curiously anonymous in its delivery, robbing any personal insight gained from her own personal journey through loss and redemption.

This is not a bad album by any means – her cover of sister Shelby Lynne's She Knows Where She Goes demonstrates Moorer's emotive appeal. Yet one can't help feeling that this is a stop-gap affair in a busy career.

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