Allison Moorer: Blood review – Stark and moving telling of a dark family tragedy
Singer / Songwriter
“I think it was around 5am when the gunshots woke me. There were two. They came very close to one another. Imagine the sound of a .30-06 rifle firing, and then think of the time it takes to snap your fingers four times to the tempo of Thirteen by Big Star. Then imagine it firing again . . .”
These are the words of someone who has repeatedly parsed a moment in time – the detail is telling, forever fresh in her mind, anchored to a classic indie song. Allison Moorer was 14 when her estranged father shot her much-loved mother on their Mobile, Alabama, front lawn in 1986 before turning the gun on himself.
Her older sister, Shelby Lynne, shielded her from the carnage as she had tried to do through the years as Vernon Franklin Moorer and Laura Lynn Smith Moorer repeatedly clashed. He was a struggling songwriter – “not great but okay”, according to his youngest daughter – who took out his drink-fuelled violent frustrations on his wife. It ended badly for both, but for their two daughters the crime has no ending. Even though they have enjoyed relatively successful careers as Americana/country singer-songwriters, the shadow of that day has never lifted.
Allison Moorer’s stark and moving new album, accompanied by her forthcoming book, Blood: A Memoir, from which the above quote is taken, is her attempt to make sense of the senseless, to confront this horror which has shaped her life. While the cynic might say never waste a good story, it is the unenviable lot of the writer that something so deeply traumatic becomes a bunch of songs and a book. The danger is to trivialise, to sensationalise or to betray, but Moorer, guided by producer Kenny Greenberg, adroitly plots her way with sensitivity and insight. While her mother and her sister are clearly the heroes, her father gets a sympathetic hearing.
Moorer’s singing has never been better or, unsurprisingly, more heartfelt. The 10 songs, utilising a range of styles from old-timey folk to country soul, cover the event, the aftermath and the voices of those involved and affected.
After Bad Weather sets the scene, Cold Cold Earth, in the style of a primitive Carter Family ballad, tells of a man “drunk with grief and loneliness, he wasn’t thinking straight”. This leads into the tender Nightlight which focuses on the bond between sisters in a warring family. The Rock and the Hill portrays their mother angrily voicing her frustration with her husband’s feckless ways.
This is followed by Vernon Moorer’s own I’m the One to Blame which strikes a poignant note; Allison Moorer’s singing just aches with pain. The haunted Set My Soul Free is again in the father’s voice before Moorer herself reveals the burden of The Ties That Bind: “Why do I carry what isn’t mine/ Can I take the good and leave the rest behind”. The bitter All I Wanted is the mother’s voice again while the title track remembers what the family share – the same blood that was spilled courses through their veins. The album closes with the hymn-like Heal, a plaintive cry for resolution.
None of these songs can have been easy to write or indeed sing. But you sense Moorer had to do it. “It’s taken a lifetime. I am 47 years old. But I also know you keep telling the story until the story is told,” she says on her website.“This isn’t only a companion piece. It stands alone in its own way, shows and says things beyond words. To me, it’s all part of it, and it’s also unto itself. It took a long time to get here, but now, it’s told.”