Allison Moorer wishes she were better at writing in the second or third-person narrative. But that’s not her strong point, she admits.
“I don’t see any need about writing about anything else other than what’s going on,” she says. “I consider that my job. I don’t excel as a writer in making things up out of thin air. I’ve always admired people who could write these story songs and tell these long tales about characters who are not them. I can’t really do that. So, I feel like my strength is write what it is I know, which is what has happened, what is happening, or what I think will happen.”
That’s the way that Moorer has approached her music since her 1998 debut Alabama Song and it’s also how she went about making her eighth studio album, Down To Believing, that’s out Tuesday. On that set, the singer-songwriter continues to keep it honest, as she deals with a great deal of change and upheaval in her personal life. After more than a decade together, she and husband Steve Earle have gone their separate ways, which no doubt influenced many of the songs on the album, though she doesn’t go into details about that part of her life — or the inspiration it might have played into the material.
At the same time, she is very up front about the inspiration behind “Mama Let The Wolf In.” Co-written with Jeffrey Steele, the track details the battle her 5-year old son, John Henry, fights with autism. “It is my very emotional response to feeling so powerless in dealing with watching something happening to my baby that I could not affect. I couldn’t protect him from it. I have spent so many sleepless nights wondering ‘What did I do wrong? If I had just done this, this wouldn’t have happened,’ or ‘Maybe if I hadn’t eaten that banana when I was pregnant that wasn’t organic, but it’s crazy. Those are the things that our minds do — especially as mothers. We always think it’s our fault, for whatever reason, even though, intellectually, there’s no basis for any of that, you still feel it. Our instinct is to protect our children. So, when that happens, you go ‘I should have done something to stop this.’ This song was a way to let it out, and also to put out to the world that ‘I’ve experienced this too, and you’re not alone.”
One of the emotional centerpieces of Down To Believing is the dramatic sound of “Thunderstorm / Hurricane,” which the singer said took her to a familiar place. “I have definitely delved into that musical territory before, almost from my second album. There was a song on it called “No Next Time” that has that same kind of long outro with strings and the big guitars. I’ve always been attracted to that deep and dramatic sound. As far as the song goes, I was trying to evoke a feeling with as much economy as I possibly could — I think the song is only thirteen lines. I felt like it was really strong and powerful musically, and wanted to pair that with a streamlined lyric. It was almost an exercise, but came from a definite emotional experience, and is about a very specific thing,” she says.
Moorer had a hand in writing each of the set’s thirteen cuts — with the lone exception being a cover of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” a song that she admits to being unsure about. “The record label wanted me to do a cover. I said ‘I don’t really think the record needs a cover on it,’ and we certainly have enough songs, but in the spirit of being cooperative, I said ‘OK, if you really want one, I’ll come up with something.’ If I was going to do a cover, it was going to be something that I had always wanted to do. I’m a huge Creedence fan, and that song might be my very favorite song of theirs. I’ve always thought it was the perfect country / rock song, and this record to me is a country / rock record, so I thought ‘If I’m ever going to this, this is the perfect time. I think what you hear on the record is actually the second take.”