Alison Moorer’s last recording, 2008’s Mockingbird, was an all-cover collection, with every tune written by women to establish a theme of sorts. In addition to honing her interpretive skills, leaving the writing to others gave her time to reflect on her own music, and Crows, with only one cover this time out, is her most complex and satisfying project yet.
There’s no overt theme on Crows, but there’s definitely a prevailing mood of reflection that gives it the feel of a single piece of art rather than a collection of individual songs. Moorer’s material leans to the introspective, yet her compositions have a thoroughly mature objectivity that sets them apart from the relentlessly self-referential. She’s more concerned with understanding than gratification, and most of the tunes here seem imbued with a search for meaning and her own place in a bewildering world. There’s an organic flow to the material, too – producer R.S. Field, who also plays drums and contributes his own “It’s Gonna Feel Good (When It Stops Hurting)” to the playlist, finds a perfect balance between an organic earthiness and electric excitement. There’s a layered complexity to the arrangements, but it never gets fussy; the disc was recorded in a mere four days.
There’s a great deal of darkness in Moorer’s own past – she and sister Shelby Lynne endured unimaginable horror – yet she remains capable of exquisite tenderness, with the disc’s emotional core coming in the back-to-back wallop of “Easy In The Summertime” and “The Stars And I (Mama’s Song)," both achingly bittersweet and resonant with loss and acceptance. Yet elsewhere she shows surprising resilience, albeit of a resigned sort – “I’m through with making plans/I don’t care where I stand/I’d rather be like the rain,” she sings on “Like The Rain," and she’s positively defiant on “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around).” Field’s “It’s Gonna Feel Good” fits right in, with its ultimate promise that, despite daily travails, things will indeed get better.
The title song, closing out the disc, seems to sum things up; birds are traditionally messengers, and while Moorer may not be sure what the Crows’ message is, she knows there’s meaning to be found, and she’ll continue to search for it. Ultimately, though, perhaps it’s the search itself that has meaning; “I guess a crow in the yard/Is better than bats in the belfry,” she concludes.
One senses Moorer’s quest is far from over, and Crows plays like an invitation to join her on her journey. It’s a trip well worth taking.