Album Review – Allison Moorer’s ‘Down To Believing’

Allison Moorer Down To Believing

To say Moorer’s last five years have been rough is an understatement. Over the course of those five years, she got divorced from fellow alt-country artist Steve Earle and found out their son John Henry has autism. There aren’t enough songs in the world to describe the heartache and pain she had to go through with all of this. So it’s not surprising with this new album that she relies heavily on these experiences and feelings for each song. By doing this it makes the album quite personal and deep. I can imagine it’s quite cathartic too to get all of these feelings out she’s been holding in. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Moorer’s new album Down To Believing.

The album kicks off with “Like It Used To Be,” an upbeat, country rock tune. It’s about moving on in life and getting used to the fact that things aren’t always going to be like they used to be. It’s a solid song to begin the album. The next song, “Thunderstorm/Hurricane,” is much darker and grittier. While the first song braced for change, this song seems to symbolize experiencing the change. It isn’t very pleasant either, as it’s compared to thunderstorms and hurricanes. Moorer’s vocals are great and really shine towards the end of the song.

“I Lost My Crystal Ball” is about losing sight of what’s happening around you (losing the crystal ball) and instead destroying everything and making a wreck of yourself (finding a wrecking ball). The lyrics are quite catchy, as well as the instrumentation. The album’s title track is a heartbreak ballad, where you can definitely tell Moorer drew from her feelings she experienced from her separation from Steve Earle. The song’s premise is simple: can both sides of the relationship still believe they have a chance of being together or is it best to just leave each other? This is one of my favorite songs on the album, as Moorer absolutely nails it.

Everything is going to hell in “Tear Me Apart,” as Moorer sings about being in a destructive relationship and wanting to get out of it. She wonders why he wants to tear her apart and how she wants to just scream if he looks her way. The bluesy, rock instrumentation gives this song a perfect feel. It’s upfront, in your face and I love it. The piano eloquently sets the mood from the beginning in “If I Were Stronger.” It’s another song where you could tell Moorer drew from her falling out with Earle, as it’s about the aftermath of a failed relationship. She sings about how she wishes she had more strength to keep the relationship going longer and to keep that love alive, but there just isn’t any love left in her heart. Moorer’s vocals are just as flawless as the great lyrics in this song. This is arguably the best song on Down To Believing.

“Wish I” deals with the conflict of wanting an ex back and wanting to move on. Part of the woman wishes he still loved her, but she knows this just isn’t going to happen. It’s truly a battle between the brain and heart, a situation many of us are familiar with. Moorer sings about the importance of family in “Blood.” As she told Rolling Stone, this song is dedicated to her sister Shelby Lynne, who is also a country singer. You can tell she has a strong bond with Lynne and I think this song is a nice tribute to their relationship.

Moorer gets angry in “Mama Let The Wolf In.” As she told Rolling Stone in another interview, this song is about her son getting diagnosed with autism and how she feels personally responsible for it happening. I highly suggest reading her entire explanation behind the song, but here’s a snippet of it:

It’s about how I feel about my son having autism. As a parent, whatever your children go through I think there’s a certain amount of it that you feel responsible for, even if you know it has nothing to do with you, even if you know that there’s absolutely no way to protect them from the world or what they have to go through, whether it’s being bullied, having a hard time in school, or being an addict. When you can’t protect them from going through something that’s hard, you feel responsible for it.

I love Moorer letting her emotions control this song, giving it a good dose of reality, edge and the feeling of helplessness many parents experience with their sick children.

The next song, “I’m Doing Fine,” revolves around this simple phrase that usually means two things. It can either mean that you’re actually doing fine or you’re far from fine. I think this song means both at times, giving it an interesting dynamic and something for the listener to really decide for themselves. The more upbeat “Back of My Mind,” is about never forgetting about a special someone who was in your life. This person was all you thought about, but as times passes your memory of them fades. But they never fade completely. The mandolin and lighter feeling instrumentation in this song really lets the song breathe and gives the song a hopeful tone.

Moorer covers the classic hit of Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” next. Now you need to know where I’m coming from when talking about this song, as I have to admit I really love this song. When I heard Moorer was covering it, I got excited. Does it live up to my expectation? Yes it does. It’s fantastic and appropriately fits in with the rest of the album. The album concludes with “Gonna Get It Wrong,” a song about making mistakes in life, but learning that it’s okay to fail and fall down. Despite getting it wrong sometimes though, you know you can always get back up and try again. The song captures the feeling of failure well. Moorer’s vocals, along with the piano and guitar instrumentation, set the mood of the song perfectly. It’s the perfect summation of life and really the entire theme of Down To Believing.

Moorer doesn’t hold anything back throughout the album. She essentially strips her life back and shows exactly what she’s experienced in the last five years. It’s raw, emotional and honest. This is what every great country album should possess. Her vocals are dynamic and flourish in every song. The songwriting is deep and tells a story. It’s an album that everyone can listen to and find a few songs that they can deeply connect to. Down To Believing is the first album from Moorer in five years and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long on the next one because the world needs more music from her. But for now enjoy this fantastic album, as I highly recommend checking it out.

Grade: 9/10 

Review – Dwight Yoakam’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain”

Dwight Yoakam returned to making music in 2012 when he released his album 3 Pears. He had taken time off to focus on his acting career. His return to music was certainly a good one, as the album received plenty of critical acclaim and reached #1 on the Americana Radio chart. Yoakam also recently announced he has resigned with Warner Brothers Nashville. To top it off he’s now released his first single from his new upcoming album (no name or date announced), “Who’ll Stop The Rain.” It’s a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 hit song.

It’s a great choice of song to cover because both Yoakam and CCR are known for having the “Bakersfield sound.” For those who aren’t familiar with the Bakersfield sound, it’s a roots rock country sound that was first popularized in California. Many also call it California country. Yoakam himself offered the best explanation of what this sound is in an interview:

‘Bakersfield’ really is not exclusively limited to the town itself but encompasses the larger California country sound of the Forties, Fifties and on into the Sixties, and even the Seventies, with the music of Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, the Burrito Brothers and the Eagles — they are all an extension of the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ and a byproduct of it. I’ve got a poster of Buck Owens performing at the Fillmore West in 1968 in Haight Asbury! What went on there led to there being a musical incarnation called country rock. I don’t know if there would have been a John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival had there not been the California country music that’s come to be known as the ‘Bakersfield Sound’.

So it’s clear he’s paying homage to the sub-genre of Bakersfield country and one of his favorite bands with his cover of “Who’ll Stop The Rain.” You will inevitably compare both versions of the song. But Yoakam gives the song a different feel, as he slows the tempo down compared to the original version. This gives the song a more country feel compared to the original, which was more of a folk rock song. Instrumentation wise, Yoakam uses a steel guitar rather than an acoustic guitar like the original. The drums are also not as present in Yoakam’s version, giving the song a more mellow vibe. CCR’s version was a little over two and a half minutes long, while Yoakam adds a few more lyrics and more chorus lines in his version bringing it to four minutes and forty-one seconds in length. Yoakam really gives it a distinction compared to the original version, making it almost a completely different song.

The original intentions behind the lyrics in this song were about government, big business and Woodstock, as the song was written after John Fogerty attended the famous concert in August 1969. Baby boomers listening to this song will still connect with these themes, while younger listeners who have never heard the song will interpret it entirely different. Some will probably interpret it as a heartbreak song, while others may consider it a commentary on the current economy. Regardless, I think listeners will appreciate Yoakam’s modern interpretation of the classic song. Yoakam’s 3 Pears album was met with great reception. If this song is an indication of the direction of his next album, I think this album will be even bigger. Most artists do a solid job with their covers of classic hits (or butcher them entirely), but Yoakam’s cover of “Who’ll Stop The Rain” is an example of the way you should cover classic songs. Making it your own and modernizing it, while also respecting the original sound.

Grade: 8.5/10