Allison Moorer has always embraced a wide range of musical styles while exploring the emotion of life with her lyrics and vocals. Her last release, Mockingbird, was a stylistically sprawling collection of covers, and the album was appropriately full to the brim with guest musicians and instruments of all kinds. Crows finds Moorer exploring her own original tunes, and it is remarkable in the sense that her voice and sound have become as distinctive as the artists she celebrated on Mockingbird.
Despite plenty of instrumental counterpoint, Moorer’s voice takes center stage throughout the album. Even if spotlighting her considerable pipes hadn’t been the intent here, it wouldn’t have mattered; her voice has the clarity and fortitude to slice through the densest backdrop of sound. She elegantly dominates the lush “Just Another Fool” and soars above the radio-ready rhythms of “The Broken Girl,” and each song’s lyrical profundity is amplified by Moorer’s arresting delivery – a blend of resonant seriousness and magical expression.
The tone of Moorer’s singing on Crows is intense and immediate, enveloping the listener in moments of grim declaration and disarming emotion. The listener experiences every forlorn notion and introspective gambit that Moorer conjures, and lines like “might as well let it all go to hell/what difference would it make” come from the far reaches of a vast world of pain. On somber songs like “When You Wake Up Feeling Bad,” Moorer embraces the downtrodden spirit of country music and the blues with carefully arranged fervor, making steely guitar and distressed keyboards sting as deeply as her vocals.
The songs on Crows were written on piano as opposed to guitar, and they exhibit a careful grace and tight structure that amplifies their emotional impact. The piano is augmented only by sparse strings on “Easy in the Summertime,” which finds Moorer waxing wistful about summer days gone by, and a carefully plucked acoustic guitar renders fragile, piano-like chords during the heaving “The Stars and I.” This particular section of the album nearly boils over with despair, and it moves at a dirge’s pace, especially during the quivering “Still This Side of Gone.”
In the grand record company tradition, the more accessible material on Crows is loaded at the beginning of the album, and there’s some truly enchanting and disturbing stuff to be found for those who dig deeper. While “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around)” is a song of breakthrough and resolution, it’s also profoundly haunting. The same goes for “It’s Gonna Feel Good (When It Stops Hurting),” in which a ray of hope peeks through Moorer’s malaise, however briefly. The climactic title track is loping, layered Americana that comes so easy to Moorer, it’ll make bearded indie rock bands cry.
Crows is at once spellbinding and challenging. Every lyric makes an impact, every instrument has its place, and music fans will find no comfort zone as Moorer disarms their senses with her authoritative voice. This isn’t the kind of acoustic music that blends into the fabric of a quiet afternoon at home. The subject matter and soul-baring atmosphere of Crows makes for a surprisingly rich, detailed, and evocative listen.