Personnel: Allison Moorer (background vocals).
Photographer: Kristin Barlowe.
On her eighth studio album, Allison Moorer reunites with producer Kenny Greenberg. He helmed her first two MCA albums, 1998's Alabama Song and 2000's The Hardest Part. They spent two years recording Down to Believing at various Nashville studios. Life-changing circumstances -- living in New York, being the mother of a young son with autism, going through a divorce, the availability of musicians -- dictated the pace. Despite all this, Down to Believing is the most focused and candid recording in her catalog. Its 13 songs (12 originals and a gorgeous cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain") consciously reflect the crucible of recent experience, without hiding behind characters. While these songs are vulnerable, they never flinch. More often than not -- as evidenced by "Like It Used to Be," the rocking first single and set opener -- Moorer comes out swinging: "...I can't hang on only losers weep/Somebody ain't nobody anybody can keep.." "Thunderstorm Hurricane" begins with acoustic guitar and brooding strings, but soon, gnarly, metallic, electric guitars and kick drums frame the drama. This testament to the frustration of miscommunication with a lover explodes. The singer's refusal to comply or be complacent becomes a righteous anger: "...Drop by drop I disappear/It's like I wasn't ever here." The journey through a relationship becomes even more poignant on the slow country waltz of the title track, a song of reflection and doubt; the singer keeps her simmering emotions contained, but subtle tensions mount. It foreshadows the rage and indictment of emotional abuse in "Tear Me Apart." Moorer, buoyed by blistering guitars, banjo, mandolins, snares, and cymbals is confused, broken, and ultimately refuses to become a target of rage. Her vocal, drenched in raw country soul and blues, reveals her truth: ...What am I/Supposed to say/When I want to scream every time you look my way..." "If I Were Stronger," a dramatic ballad, reveals the expected toll of that endurance and the stalemates it results in: romantic love and relationships die. "Blood" is an offering of unconditional love. Highlighted by weeping pedal steel and acoustic guitar, this country song reveals the definition of "agape." (Moorer says it was written for her sister, Shelby Lynne.) "Mama Let the Wolf In" is a bluesy, swampy, rockabilly burner about a mother's inability to shield her child from all of life's tough cards. While "I'm Doing Fine" is a rootsy testament to moving on, "Back of My Mind," with its pop hook, balances determination and self-doubt. The intimate slide- and mandolin-driven closer "Gonna Get It Wrong" is a hymn to self-acceptance and self-reliance: "...Got a true blue heart ...and it falls apart...I know I'm gonna get it wrong but it's alright." Somehow, the listener knows it is. It's the only sendoff a songwriter like Moorer could deliver on Down to Believing, an emotionally raw yet aesthetically fine album. She may have reached into the depths for these songs, but she's delivered us the gift of a burning light. ~ Thom Jurek