Album: Allison Moorer

Miss Fortune, Universal South

Allison Moorer's previous albums have stuck fairly close to her neo-traditionalist country roots, but on Miss Fortune she strikes out for less well-defined territory, with an engaging blend of country-rock, gospel funk and torch songs that defies easy categorisation. Few other modern country acts could slip so easily from the bar-room romanticism of "Yessirree" to the Sticky Fingers raunch of "Going Down" (with its rasping, Bobby Keys-style sax from Jim Hoke), and then to the plaintive, country-jazz guitar and fiddle of "Dying Breed", a sober appraisal of drink and drugs: "No one gets old in this household/ We are a dying breed." That track, and the revivalist junkie hymn "Bully Jones", reflect the considerate tenor of Moorer's songwriting – quick to empathise, slow to condemn. The same goes for "Ruby Jewel Was Here", a tale of an ill-fated, hard-done-by whore, "reared among the guttersnipe while her mama puffed the Chinese pipe". Whiskery horn and accordion textures give its country-funk strut a grain and patina reminiscent of The Band's second album, while Moorer's mature, confident contralto lends the songs a strength and dignity sometimes lacking in Nashville divas. It's small wonder, then, to read in the sleevenotes that "Absolutely no vocal tuning or pitch correction was used in the making of this record." It's an important consideration on a track such as "Up this High", whose hook relies on the subtlety of her backing harmonies. And, though she might stretch her metaphors a little too far in tracks such as "Steal the Sun" and "Cold in California", the wistful, barstool philosophising of "Can't Get There from Here" sounds like a standard the first time you hear it. Classy.

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