Allison Moorer,
The Duel
(Sugar Hill, 2004)

Allison Moorer's three previous albums have pushed the boundaries of traditional country music with a solid underpinning of bluesy soulfulness, so it should not come as a shock -- although it still sort of does (in a good way) -- to find Moorer channeling Neil Young and Crazy Horse circa 1969 on her latest release. The Duel opens with a blast of deliciously chunky electric guitar, sounding so familiar you'll half expect to hear someone sing "hello cowgirl in the sand" or "down by the river," just during the first 30 seconds of "I Ain't Giving Up on You." I'll freely admit that I'm a goner whenever a sweet-sounding female voice is accompanied by well-played electric guitar, and this album is fully loaded with both.

Track two, "Baby Dreamer," sounds so reminiscent of Crosby Stills Nash & Young that at any moment you could easily hear it segue into Young's "Helpless." She could cover "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" next and it would seem totally at home in this set. "Melancholy Polly" follows with a really cool lyric that makes one curious as to how autobiographical it might be. "Believe You Me" features powerful production and more nice crunchy guitar.

For a brief change of pace, the pedal steel guitar that so nicely accents "One On the House" is the first hint of Moorer's country past. Lyrically it's totally country, too, the classic sad drinking song. The pedal steel sound is reminiscent not only of Neil Young's Harvest album, but in combination with the piano and bass, sounds uncannily like something off Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon -- pretty neat stuff for an old school country tune.

Maybe it's really guitarist Adam Landry who's got the Neil Young fixation; his guitar sound is driving the bus on "All Aboard." Next up is the title track, consisting of just voice, piano and harmonica, very heartfelt sounding, not unlike Springsteen's intro to "Thunder Road." "When Will You Ever Come Down" is mostly acoustic guitar strumming off set with a nice electric lead solo. "Louise is in the Blue Moon" starts off with a pleasing mix of organ, acoustic guitar and voice before the band kicks in with more crunchy guitar.

"Once Upon a Time She Said" starts and ends slowly but when the band gets going in the middle, the guitarist really kicks it up a few notches. "Sing Me to Sleep" ends the album beautifully -- soft, slow and acoustic. The disc also contains enhanced material, viewable on your computer, which consists of a live video of "Believe You Me" performed at the Americana Music Awards in September 2003.

Overall the songwriting is first rate, with all songs co-written by Moorer with her co-producer and husband Butch Primm. The production by Primm and drummer R.S. Field makes this one of the best-sounding records I've heard in many a day. Moorer's website describes the sound as intentionally "heedless and blunt, and a little bit rough around the edges." They took a "new, thoroughly unrehearsed band into the studio and cut eleven songs in a dozen days." The description continues to say that "The Duel isn't exactly a rock record. It's simply the newest installment in the series of deeply personal and profoundly beautiful albums Moorer has made. It's a wee bit louder, that's all." Moorer has obviously been inspired to new levels of creative intensity on this project and, as good as her past records have been, The Duel is her strongest and most enjoyable record yet.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 5 March 2005

[ visit the artist's website ]

Buy it from