In the moments that launch her sixth album, an electric guitar cranks out a power chord, and Allison Moorer makes a powerful declaration:
"I've got a lot of work to do"
With these words, the Alabama born-and-bred singer embarks upon an intensely personal, yet instantly recognizable, journey. For Moorer, Getting Somewhere means looking inward, confronting the past and forging a glad present and a hopeful future. In the process, she takes her artistry to the next level and revolutionizes her life.
For the first time in her nearly decade-long career, Moorer wrote every song on her new album (her second for Sugar Hill), produced by husband Steve Earle. What emerged from her pen -- and her guitar -- are ten melodic rock 'n' roll gems, succinctly stated in just under 32 minutes. "I didn't worry about who was going to like it or what was expected of me. I had a revelation that it was all right to express myself. When I listen to these songs, I can hear myself growing by leaps and bounds from the time I wrote the first song to the time I finished the last one.
The changes in 33-year-old Moorer's life over the last couple of years have been profound. In 2004, she toured as Steve Earle's opening act. Her marriage to musical collaborator Doyle Butch Primm ended and she and Steve fell in love. "We wanted to do this right, and that meant getting married. I think proximity is one of the keys to a good relationship."
The couple spends most of their time in a modest apartment in New York City's Greenwich Village. "We came here to start fresh," says Moorer. "[New York] is something that's just ours." But they also live part-time just outside of Nashville, where Getting Somewhere was recorded in a whirlwind ten-day session.
Teaming with Earle was a different experience for Moorer than before. Though Earle's influence is felt in the big drums, dirty guitar sounds and backwards solos that have characterized some of his own work, the vision is uniquely Moorer's. "'You'll Never Know' is about me not being able to express myself the way I want," she says. "Musically, it's one of my favorite songs on the record. The way the verses go seamlessly into the choruses and the structure of it makes it one of my favorite things Ive ever written. It was also a turning point. That song opened up a door for me to write melodies that are -- for lack of a better word -- pop." Writing the song itself presented a unique challenge. "I was on an airplane, flying across the country, with no tape recorder," Moorer explains. "I didn't want to lose the melody, so I thought of the scales in my mind, took out a piece of paper and wrote down the notes as numbers."
"You'll Never Know" dovetails gracefully out of "Work to Do" a defiant, positive kiss-off to the past. "I wrote that song for girls, and really for anybody who ever let someone tell them that they weren't good enough, that they couldn't do something they wanted to do," she says. "It's hard to erase negative stuff. If someone gives you a compliment, you forget about it in five minutes. If someone says something negative to you or about you, you'll carry it around with you for the rest of your life. It's something I've had to work on and continue to have to work on.
If Moorer is taking her own inventory in Getting Somewhere's first three songs, the album's mid-section finds her dealing with ghosts and taking the reigns of her own creative process. "None of these songs are made up out of nothing, they all came from something I was experiencing at that moment or had experience earlier." she says. "'New Year's Day' is about my childhood, a glimpse into how I grew up. 'Black eyed peas in a plastic bowl on New Year / [sitting in my swing set swaying to get away / sissy says 'don't worry, it'll be ok' / so we do what we always do stay out of the way.'] That really happened."
Moorer's childhood has cast a long, notorious shadow over her life. When she was only fourteen her parents died in a murder-suicide. In the song "How She Does It," Moorer revisits this defining event. "I wrote that song for my mother," she says. "It's me rewriting history. It was the first time I ever realized my power as a writer. It hit me that I don't have to tell it as it is, I can tell it as I want it to be. [This time] she gets away."
It's an absolutely stunning moment, one that sets the tone for the album's sunset, culminating in the title track's dark-sounding but ultimately optimistic closer ["I close my eyes and whisper a prayer / I have to believe I'm getting somewhere"]. "I've come to terms with a lot of stuff and [decided] I'm going to give up this angst. I don't need it," Moorer says. "I've stopped wondering whether or not there is a god. I do believe in god. I'm sure I do for the first time in my life. And I'm really happy for the first time in my life."
From the fat electric power chords of the opening track, to the thick acoustic strum and snare drum shuffle of "How She Does It," to the melancholy string section and classic melodic structure of "Where You Are," Getting Somewhere is filled with captivating, gorgeous sounds, including Moorer's dusky alto, which has never sounded better. More than anything else, though, Getting Somewhere is the sound of an artist finding her voice, finding her faith, finding her peace.