Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Blood’

The short version: Allison Moorer faces her past and creates her rawest project yet.

  • Favorite tracks: “Set My Soul Free,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Bad Weather,” “The Rock and the Hill,” “Blood”
  • Least favorite track: “Heal”
  • Rating: 9/10

The long version: Allison Moorer may not be the most prolific artist of the 2010s, but of the few albums she’s released this decade, all have required her to face her personal struggles head-on.

Whether it was offering fans a glimpse into the last few years of her life on 2015’s Down To Believing or finally teaming up with sister Shelby Lynne to record 2017’s Not Dark Yet, an album of cover songs important to them, the pain was on display, but a full understanding of what it meant hadn’t yet emerged.

Now, Moorer has unearthed the darkest remnants of her past by detailing the 1986 murder-suicide of her parents in both the form of her latest album, Blood, as well as a memoir of the same name. One finished result is an album that, while not featuring the polished edge of some of her past work that I, admittedly, prefer, captures a southern-Gothic narrative in its rawest form; it’s also Moorer’s best album yet.

Thematically, Blood explores that tragic event in one song, “Cold Cold Earth,” originally a hidden track at the end of 2000’s The Hardest Part, while exploring its aftermath from multiple perspectives, including from Moorer, her mother and even her father. But it’s on that track where it all starts, where Vernon Frank Moorer shoots Lynn Moorer in front of the house she, as well as Allison and Shelby were staying at, already driven away by him. If “Bad Weather” works to establish the foreboding narrative and incoming storm clouds to tell the eventual story, “Cold Cold Earth” is merely the beginning of that story.

Yet even if that track is the inspiration for the events that transpire on this album, it’s not the focus. It’s one track on an album encompassing ten songs, meaning the focus is on what comes after. By the second half, the focus shifts solely toward Moorer’s perspective, but it’s on the first half that we hear from all sides: the plea of scared sisters clinging to each other for some type of peace on “Nightlight,” the tired anguish and bitter frustration of a mother scared to death of what might happen next on “The Rock and the Hill,” or even a father who, in spite of losing everything to alcoholism and pride, still clings to God for one last vestige of hope. In fact, there’s two tracks that explore his perspective in the form of, “I’m The One To Blame,” a poem written by Frank, and “Set My Soul Free,” the former of which begs for that last chance and includes a slight hint of optimism only for it to be crushed on the latter track.

Blood never looks to cast judgment, though, but rather understand the full situation of what everyone’s mindset was then. For Lynn on “The Rock and the Hill,” her own thoughts are so jumbled and packed together to suggest she’s barely hanging on, too, and even if there’s no chance to make excuses for what Vernon did, the album casts him as a man with nothing left (physically or mentally) who isn’t even the same father or person he was before. And whereas that first half is placed in the past, the second half finds Allison learning how to forgive and, if not move on, then at least face that tragedy head-on to find some peace. That’s not to say that there isn’t some justified anger that crops up, like on “All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway),” but if “Cold Cold Earth” is one important piece of the story, so is “The Ties That Bind,” which feels like Moorer laying it all out on the line in her own plea. It’s a track that tries to duplicate itself on the closing track, “Heal,” but, truthfully, the repetitive piano ballad pushes the album into generic empowerment anthem territory, when the strength of the album stems from its simplicity.

On that note, when I called Blood a southern-Gothic narrative before, that mostly extended toward the production and instrumentation, which is, arguably, Kenny Greenberg’s most subdued yet. Still, even if I wish the second half of the album featured a bit more variety, the first half is an absolutely stunning exercise in execution. The simple details and touches are all there: the swelling reverb to cultivate a sense of darker atmosphere on “Bad Weather,” the stark acoustic guitar driving “Cold Cold Earth” that makes the cry of the haggard, old-time fiddle unexpected, but welcome; the softer, brittle acoustics of “Nightlight” to capture one of the album’s only moments of tender warmth, to when that beautiful horn cascades off the melody – it’s all simple, yet effective.

Even if the groove of “The Rock and the Hill,” which ventures into hard-charged blues-rock, feels a tad underweight (even if the final chorus kicks the tempo up a notch), Moorer has no problem carrying that righteous fury all on her own. Though for the most part, Blood finds Moorer in a fragile, almost defeated state as she tries to sift through those remnants of her past. Even if “Bad Weather” feels like a prelude to the other events here, it’s Moorer’s best vocal performance as she soars on that chorus and cries with agony knowing what’s to come. It’s the same reason why “The Ties That Bind” resonates beyond its words or subdued production. And when Moorer clings to her sister as a child on “Nightlight,” the bond there is just as strong as when she reaffirms it years later on the title track.

Ultimately, it’s hard to draw a concrete analysis for Blood, mostly because it’s not up to any of us other than Moorer or Lynne to fully understand the gravity of the situation. But hopefully it brings them one step closer to finding solace in the present day.

(Light 9/10)

Buy or stream the album.
Buy Blood: A Memoir.

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