This is the second part of a two-part interview with singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, who will release her seventh studio album, Crows, on Feb. 9. She talks about her career, her relationship with older sister Shelby Lynne and what it's like being Mrs. Steve Earle.
Still in pursuit of happiness, Allison Moorer at least seems content at this stage of her career, unconcerned about how her new record will do on the charts or in terms of sales.
Admitting in Part 1, "I'm not a spring chicken," at age 37, Moorer adds, "I'm definitely not a new artist. Just the fact that I've got yet another record label (Ryko) willing to take a chance on me and make a record, I think that's pretty damn good."
On only her second album, The Hardest Part in 2000, Moorer sounded neither hopeful nor happy. But brutally honest. She discussed the record in detail back then with Grant Alden, whose splendid article, "Loving, Leaving, Living: Allison Moorer lays it all on the line with a suite of songs about a sad, sad world," appeared in the Sept. - Oct. 2000 edition of No Depression magazine.
Moorer told Alden, "The first song on the record, 'The Hardest Part', makes a statement about love: 'The hardest part of living is loving, 'cause loving turns to leaving every time.' That is what I believe to be true. No matter if you're in a love relationship, in a relationship with parents or siblings, whatever it may be, it's gonna end."
At the time, Moorer was married to Doyle "Butch" Primm, and they co-wrote and co-produced what Alden called "a country music concept album." And the concept is essentially about a relationship that's doomed.
The album also included the closest thing Moorer has ever had to a hit single, "Send Down An Angel," along with "Cold, Cold Earth," the hidden track about the murder-suicide involving her parents in August 1986 that ends with "Now they are lying / In the cold, cold earth / Such a sad, sad story / Such a sad, sad world."
To anyone who has heard her music, Alden's impressions of Moorer back then might still apply. "There is no better singer at work today, and only a very few are her equal," he wrote. "The Hardest Part is her truth, and hard-won. Hardest won. Nothing else could hurt that much, and precious little art comes from joy."
Critical success, along with late night appearances on Letterman and Leno, put Moorer on the national map, while on the road at stops like the Soiled Dove in Denver, she performed "Cold, Cold Earth" in front of hushed, stunned audiences. But country radio still wasn't ready to listen.
"She's one of those artists, like Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, who radio thinks is a little too complex maybe to fit their playlists," then-MCA Nashville Records president Tony Brown told esteemed pop music critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angles Times even before The Hardest Part was released in 2000. "But I think she'll break through. She's got a million-dollar voice and I love her songs. We could try to gimmick up the records to try to make them more radio-friendly, but I don't want to compromise what she does just to get on radio."
Neither did Moorer. "Country radio (programmers) don't want anything that might distract listeners from whatever it is they are doing," Moorer told Hilburn then. "But I'm fed up with hearing about how everything's great, and songs about 'I love you and you love me, and isn't everything wonderful?' Well, everything in life isn't always wonderful and we need to talk about that too.
"I realize I have to have a certain amount of success in order to be able to do this and I would love to have a hit, but I'm not going to change who I am to get one."
Principles intact, it was her marriage to Primm that eventually fell apart. Four years later, it was essentially over, becoming official with a divorce in April 2005.
Asked for this article about those comments she made in No Depression 10 years ago, Moorer said, "I still believe that to be true. It's not sad, it's how life works."
Duke (and Duchess) of Earle
Known for his rapid-fire rants, colorful stories and entertaining between-songs banter, Earle liked to tell this one during The Revolution Starts Now tour in 2004-05 with his hard-rocking band, the Dukes, which included a stop at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado on March 30, 2005:
"I'm from an awful place called Texas. It's going to take a while to get the stink out of there. But one thing I did learn growing up in Texas is how to get my money's worth out of a redheaded girl once I get her up here. You know what the difference between a redhead from Alabama and a tornado is, right? (Dramatic pause ...) F---ing nothing! Sooner or later one of them will get your trailer."
That essentially was how many of Earle's rowdy audiences were introduced to Moorer for the first time. Everyone yukked it up and Moorer managed a shy smile, but make no mistake, she wasn't a mere foil who knew how to take a punch line. This was one intelligent, strong-willed woman who could knock the socks off the crowd with her beauty, brains and stirring vocals.
Moorer was the opening act during the Dukes tour, singing and playing acoustic guitar without a backing band in front of sold-out houses for the first time. That experience proved to the ultimate test for her as a musician and performer.
Following her solo set, Moorer would join Earle for duets he had previously recorded with other women, including Lucinda Williams ("You're Still Standing There") and Emmylou Harris ("Comin' Around"). Moorer also joined in on rousing covers such as the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia" and the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today," leaving no doubt she was an incredibly gifted singer who could rock just as hard as the boys.
After that tour ended, Earle and Moorer were married in Aug. 2005. It was his seventh (if you include his two marriages to the same woman), her second. They spent part of their honeymoon as solo performers at the Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado about a week later and have toured extensively in that manner since then. Moorer opens, then joins her husband's set for some duets.
Of course, Moorer, who is preparing to give birth to her first child (a boy to be named John Henry Earle) in March, has had to postpone full-time touring and traveling plans since October. But she hopes to be back on the road this summer, then plans to go out again with Earle when his next record comes out either in the fall or early 2011. (Moorer, below left, performs with Earle in 2008.)
"We'll be able to pass the baby back and forth," she says joyfully. "We've always wanted to tour together because it just keeps us together and we both think that's really important (laughs).
"It's a key ingredient in keeping a marriage together. Especially now that we're having a baby. We're gonna have to share taking care of the baby so we can both continue to do what we do."
Moorer is mildly disappointed that she won't be able to join her husband for the Cayamo Cruise from Feb.21-26 that will also include good friends Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller, and hopes Earle will "bring me some good souvenirs."
She does plan to play a few live shows in the area to promote Crows' upcoming release, though, including a February 8 date at Joe's Pub in New York. And she'll be in Woodstock to open Levon Helms' Midnight Ramble on February 13. Her band will include Ollabelle's Byron Isaacs on upright bass; dear friend Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and mandolin; and Whitmore's husband, talented Son Volt guitarist Chris Masterson. "I'm gonna have to sit down to play guitar, but ... you know," Moorer says, almost apologetically. "There are just some physical realities of things that I'm having to work around, but that's OK."
Baby (Grand) Daddy
Much was made over the holidays when it was reported that Van Morrison was becoming a father again at age 64. "I saw it on, like MSNBC, on the crawl, and I was like, 'Huh?' " Moorer recalls.
Whether it's true or false isn't the point. Old age is all the rage these days, with The Who's Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey playing at halftime of the Super Bowl and 60-year-old actor Jeff Bridges earning rave reviews and Oscar buzz for his performance in Crazy Heart as a country singer who could have learned a thing or two from Earle and Kris Kristofferson. Somebody ought to give it up for Baby Daddy Earle, too, who just turned 55 in January. But who's counting?
Before Earle moved to Sirius Satellite Radio, Moorer was a guest on his Air America show on May 8, 2005. Among her song suggestions for the show that day included Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," Lucinda Williams' "Metal Firecracker," sister Shelby Lynne's "Lookin Up" and ... Earle's "Tecumseh Valley." The exchange:
Moorer: "I'm a big fan of your singing, and have been since Day One, since the first time I heard you. I was probably 14 the first time I first heard you."
Earle: "Uh-oh, now that makes me feel kind of old. I'm not sure ... you know..."
Moorer: "Don't think about it."
Earle: "I'll never think about that again."
Obviously, the comments could make even a grown man like Earle blush, if not cry. But the Hardcore Troubadour had little reason to worry. By then, his troubles with the law and drug addiction were in that same rearview mirror with Nashville. Compared to Morrison, Earle is still a young dude.
And no matter the age difference, he and Moorer seem meant for each other. Asked how her life has changed since their marriage and what they provide that might have been missing, Moorer offers, "I feel supported in a way that I never have before. I know he's got my back no matter what. I take deeper breaths now. I would like to think I provide those same things for him, but you'd have to ask him. One thing we don't do is speak for each other."
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves
Although nothing is signed, sealed and delivered, Moorer does plan to record and perform with Shelby Lynne, her older (but certainly not bigger) sister, in the near future. "Just the two of us and a couple of guitars and sort of going out and doing that." (Lilith Fair, are you listening? With Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson and Canada's Tegan and Sara already on the bill, just think what this sister act would bring. Both sing like angels, and the sometimes-rowdy Lynne could raise some hell as well.)
While accepting the fact that inevitable comparisons to Lynne's smooth-as-silk voice are made, Moorer says, "That would be a hard thing for me to get," laughing it off by adding, "We are sisters, so we can't help it ... You know, we grew up singing together, so how could we not sound alike from time to time."
Moorer prefers to address their relationship, saying Shelby is very excited about the opportunity to be an aunt for the first time and plans to visit her nephew shortly after the birth in New York. They constantly keep in touch, contrary to some popular cultural belief.
Acknowledging they rarely share songs with each other until they're finished, Moorer says she broke from tradition and sent "Sissy" a working MP3 of "Easy in the Summertime" because of the personal nature of one of her favorite songs on Crows.
"We're very close," Moorer points out. "If, for some reason, it's been reported that we're not (close), and I'm not sure how that got started or why (laughing), we've always been very close. And I guess because ... we have not participated in each other's press, because of that, people interpreted that as there being tension between us."
The two, who performed on Moorer's Show, a CD/DVD combo recorded live at 12th & Porter in Nashville in 2003 (Moorer, left, with Lynne), will even sing informally from time to time, Moorer says. With all of Earle's family ties, including rising son Justin Townes Earle, imagine the possibilities - a hootenanny that could rival the Carter-Cash clan.
For now, though, the focus is on the new addition. Her clothing line, 1 Turtle Dove, may be on hold, but that doesn't mean she's putting down the sewing needle and thread. "Believe me, I'm crocheting a bunch of hats and booties at the moment," Moorer proudly proclaims, her motherly instincts shining through. She worries about how the birth will affect their two dogs, especially her chihuahua, Petey, because "he's been sort of my dog baby. But we'll figure all that out. I've got two arms, thank goodness."
Still stressing that she feels incredibly lucky about being where she is today, Moorer's pursuit of happiness continues. "I don't know anyone who's happy who doesn't work at it," Moorer contends. "It's not something that people just are, I don't think. Especially today because we're so inundated with everything all the time. I don't think there's any way we can be at peace unless we really make an effort to be.
"I have to work at it everyday. I absolutely do."
Reminded of her obsession with birds (the title track of Mockingbird was the lone original among a collection of covers by female artists), Moorer just laughs when asked if she already knows what the name of her Crows follow-up will be.
Even if she has to make a small sacrifice for her art, here's hoping Bluebird of Happiness is among the working titles.
Allison Moorer performs "Is Heaven Good Enough For You"
with sister Shelby Lynne on Show:
Part 1: Allison Moorer talks about her new album, the impending birth of her first child and the state of country music at Huffington Post Entertainment.
Credit: Publicity photos of Allison Moorer by Angela Kohler.