When Allison Moorer stepped back after three years of almost constant touring behind the shiningly pop Getting Somewhere and the heroine-invoking Mockingbird, she exhaled and considered the colors and tones being drowned out in the go-go, now-now world of blare and bravado. Crows, with melodies that conjure more than drive, almost pearlescent guitars and lushly narcotic vocal harmonies, offers a core sample of the tides and times of the modern thinking woman.
As the patron saint of broken hearts and fallen angels, the Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter has never flinched at the hard stuff. Seven albums over the past decade have demonstrated that willingness to look into the painful places—and with the sultry torch on “Should I Be Concerned” and the barely-there torment of “Still This Side of Gone” demonstrate the Piaf-esque je ne regrette rien that makes her so raw and so strong.
However, the R.S. Field-produced song cycle is hardly a pull-the-drapes-and-draw-the-razor concoction. World-weary, yet aware that some people’s malaise—and cure—is at their own hand as the whirling-ly engaging “Just Another Fool” and ennui-laden “When You Wake Up Feeling Bad” give way to the resolved “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around)” and even brighter “It’s Gonna Feel Good.”
Innocence is captured in the languid, backward-looking “Easy in the Summertime,” while the minimal cloud of strings and plucked-gut-strings of “The Stars and I” offer a hushed optimism that feels far more real than Hallmark. That defines the challenge of making music for modern times: recognizing the rigors of basic living, while imbuing a hope that is believable, embraceable amidst the effort of getting by.
Not created as a manifesto, but more a small collection of truths offering “ah ha” recognition, Crows realizes the flickers that haunt us—even as it tries to shine a light to dispel those notions—can be dogged. Not Prozac-basted bromides, but broken-in examples to show there is strength in surrender and hope in what’s beyond.
Opening with a gentle cascade of notes, “Like the Rain” embraces natural order, and the healing power of what seems sad, but ultimately sows greater benefits than immediately seen. That is Moorer’s gift: the acceptance of how it is right, now, to get to where she wants to be, and her ability to view each step as merely one more in a journey to much higher ground.
With an earthy ethereality, Moorer stakes her claim for anyone who’s ever felt like the blues was bigger than they were, but soldiered on—if only because, what other option is there? Slightly bluesy, but pluckier, “It’s Gonna Feel Good” offers up that brightness-illuminating-the-clouds relief that is inevitable if one refuses to surrender.
In a world of quick hits and quicker fixes, an album that passes through the valleys of darkness defies convention. Somehow, there is a catharsis and an embrace of what can be just by being. Not quite Zen in its configuration, Crows is coaxingly lovely in its ministrations.