Wussies and Winners
Allison Moorer goes sappy, Dixie Chicks aren’t backing down, and Wolfmother gets grandiose
Now consider Allison Moorer, whose charcoal-infused voice was once a reflection of her dark, Southern Alabama upbringing, during which her father shot her mother before turning the gun on himself, leaving Moorer and her sister, country songstress Shelby Lynn, to fend for themselves. But something happened between Moorer’s 2004 release of The Duel and her newest, Getting Somewhere , and it wasn’t that she found Jesus. Rather, she found and married Steve Earle, dolled up her rough ’n’ tumble girl-next-door looks, and dumbed down her music.
Moorer’s voice, once hard as nails, becomes so airy it’s almost inaudible. She takes the nail file of I’m-so-happy idealism to her once gritty, unkempt songwriting. Maybe it’s denial, and maybe it’s survival, but it sure isn’t honest. Ah, well. At what cost getting where one wants to go.
That said, thank God the Chicks haven’t let all that sophistication go to their heads. Their locks may have gone from blond to brown to red and back again, but they’re still fearless country girls at heart, and indomitable musicians, too. The Long Way Around creeps further away from mainstream country, incorporating some expansive rockier tracks; mega-producer Rick Rubin’s only flaw is perhaps going overboard with the talented session musicians’ showy polish. The more subtle songs, like “Lullaby,” recall the signature Chicks’ sound; a mandolin’s lithe plink overlapping ethereal harmonies. “Lubbock or Leave it,” the “Sin Wagon” of the album, rails on small-town woes, juxtaposing hillbilly brashness and sizzling femininity. But the Chicks are most feminine in their steadfast and unmasked response to their protestors in “Not Ready to Make Nice,” an anthemic and gutsy—yet still classy—way of saying, “See if we care!”
Coming on like some brash and thoroughly unrepentant hybrid of Ozzy and Robert Plant, singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale navigates proto-metal and pastoral folk with equal aplomb, cooing, screeching, and roaring through 13 tracks that variously invoke purple hazes, golden mountains, and a whole lotta love. On tracks like the “Joker & the Thief” or the mega-trippy “Mind’s Eye,” bassist/keyboardist Chris Ross ratchets the retro quotient even further with Hammond flourishes straight out of English Prog 101.
Lest you think these Aussie boys are little more than rote Zepplinarians, Stockdale mixes in modern avant-garage influences, getting his Jack White on with “Apple Tree”—quite possibly the best song the White Stripes never wrote. Still, Wolfmother’s aesthetic is decidedly retro, in that glorious double-gatefold-LP kind of way. Like the fantastic Frazetta painting that graces the front of their CD jacket, these lads aspire to worlds the rest of us only glimpse in dream.