Allison Moorer's biggest success to date is her Oscar-nominated contribution to the Horse Whisperer
soundtrack. She's a stunningly beautiful 30-year-old Alabaman whose older sister happens to be Shelby Lynne. Taken together, these biographical details lowered my hopes for Miss Fortune
; I expected something glossy and tepid, with lots of earnest stabs at a Shania-style crossover hit. Basically, I expected Shelby Lynne -- but as is often the case when I make snap judgements (hearken to the lesson, Splendid readers), my expectations went unfulfilled. Miss Fortune
is a rich, varied and emotionally resonant album that eschews AOR sugar fixes for smart, graceful songwriting and soulful but unshowy performances.
Moorer and husband/songwriting partner Doyle Primm write with little regard for genre boundaries -- much of Miss Fortune hovers somewhere between country, rock, folk and pop. On album opener "Tumbling Down" -- an elegant pop song with Beatlesque piano and a string section -- Moorer sounds like a countrified Aimee Mann. The next track, "Cold In California", features a similarly lush arrangement; it's no "That Don't Impress Me Much" (thank god), but it's catchy enough to carve out a cozy niche on the pop singles chart.
The revenge narrative "Ruby Jewel Was Here" is as close as the Moorer comes to out-and-out country. Skillfully executed though it is, "Ruby" pales a bit in comparison to the less genre-specific songs. Generally, the further Moorer and Primm get from contemporary country, the more impressive the results. "Mark My Word" (written by Primm alone) uses an acoustic guitar and a string quartet as its only instrumentation. The melody could have come from an old Motown ballad; coupled with the arrangement, it's breathtaking. "Yessirree" invests a simple song about an especially friendly bar with the soul and sweep of gospel music. The backwoods ballad "Dying Breed" would sound cool and sinister if sung by Tom Waits, but coming from Moorer it's haunting and unspeakably lonely.
Moorer won't appeal to country purists, and while she stands a chance with the O Brother Where Art Thou? bluegrass and country neophytes, she's not a shoo-in. She might be a radio station programmer's nightmare, but at her best she's as keen and satisfying a talent as present-day Nashville has to offer.