It was 2002, and I made my way down to Texas for the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival. I had ventured to Austin to see many of my favorite bands and artists, including Ryan Adams, Wilco, Tift Merritt, and Patty Griffin. I had no idea who Allison Moorer was.
By chance, that quickly changed.
I wasn’t planning on catching Moorer’s set that day at the ACL Fest. I remember it being very early in the morning (for me, anyway), I remember drinking Lonestar beer instead of bottled water. I remember I already had a pretty bad sunburn.
But hey, I was in Austin to see as much live music as possible, so I found a stage that offered the best view, and I took a seat on the lawn. It was then that Allison Moorer appeared before my eyes for the first time, and boy did she ever leave a mark.
Besides covering Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears,” which is a surefire way to win me over, Moorer confidently ripped through her own catalog, which these days has grown even more impressive.
2008’s Mockingbird, an album mostly of covers, featured a heavenly take of Joni Mitchell”s “Both Sides Now,” and a stunning version of Gillian Welch’s “Revelator.” And her new album, “Crows,” an album full of original material that was released earlier this year, could arguably be her best effort yet.
What I do know for sure is that the redhead from Mobile, Alabama, who also happens to be Steve Earle’s wife, can still write a song and sing the hell out of it. Her talent is all over Crows, so much that you want repeated listens whenever you get the chance.
Moorer recently took some time to answer a few questions for us about Crows and her favorite Steve Earle songs.
Recording my own material is actually more natural for me than recording other people’s songs. However, making Mockingbird was a very valuable experience in that I feel like it opened me up considerably. I felt like I would become a better writer after making that record.
2. I read that you wrote the songs on Crows on piano. What was that experience like for you?
I wrote about half of the songs on the piano and half on guitar. Piano is actually the instrument I played first, before guitar. It makes me happy. It’s a much less mysterious instrument than guitar, and I find that writing on it opens me up melodically in a way that guitar hasn’t yet. I played all the piano on the record, which obviously I’d never done before either, so that was a challenge and a lot of fun.
3. I sense a lot of “mature hope” on Crows, even though some of the lyrics mention regret. Is this a hopeful record, in your opinion? Why?
I do think this is a hopeful record, in a very grown up sense. It’s not pollyanna-ish in any sense, but it’s about acknowledging the dark and the shadows, embracing those things, and finding the light that comes in around it.
4. You’ve recently been called “one of the country’s most overlooked artists.” What does that mean to you?
I can’t spend time thinking about how “overlooked” I am. There are artists one hundred times better than I am that no one has ever heard of, I’m sure. I hate complaining about any of that stuff — I’m lucky to get to make music and consider it a blessing and gift that I’m still doing it after this long!
5. Finally, for fun, and since he’s your husband, please give us your top five Steve Earle songs, and tell us how they inspire you.
Well, that’s a hard one. He has written so many wonderful songs, It’s hard to pick five. But here goes:
1. “Sparkle and Shine” — I have to pick this one, it’s about me! But seriously, I love the guitar figure, I love the sweet lyric. I love that he can be so romantic and wear it like a badge.
2. “Days Aren’t Long Enough” — I have to pick this one, too, because we wrote it together and it’s our anthem.
3. “Goodbye” — I think most everyone would pick this song as one of Steve’s best. It may be one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the most honest. Steve is so genius because he makes everything sound like it was there before. He is never forced. And this song is the best example of that talent.
4. “Jerusalem” — I love Steve’s political songs. He can do it without tripping over himself which, as we all know, is incredibly hard to do. Great melody, great lyric. And if you listen, you can learn something.
5. “Christmas in Washington” — The first time I heard this song, I bet I listened to it 10 times before I listened to the rest of the album it’s on. Good Lord, it’s good. Jaw-droppingly so. Sounds like he found it under a rock or hanging from a tree fully-formed.