It’s a Friday in March and Manhattan is abuzz. Night has come and it’s happy hour in the lobby bar of Allison Moorer’s obnoxiously trendy 27th Street hotel, but she’s oblivious. Her husband and songwriting partner, Butch Primm, is upstairs in bed and she plans on joining him once she finishes this interview. Besides, she’s already had her share of big city fun for the day.
Moorer is still aglow from a four-song set she and her bandmates performed earlier in the day at New York’s hip noncommercial station, WFUV. “We were holed up in this little bitty room, all five of us, and it made me so happy,” she says. “Those are the moments where I go, ‘Right on.’ I was just so happy to be there. That may sound corny, but most people don’t get to stay in this business as long as I have unless they’re really successful. Somehow we’ve stuck to our guns and I’m still here.”
Ever the vixen, the pouty-lipped Moorer is in New York hawking The Duel, her fifth album and debut for the rootsy Sugar Hill label. Last night, she played a showcase at the tiny Joe’s Pub. And while the room was half-full at best, Moorer slayed. Soul-busting Mississippi mama and dust-kickin’ Tennessee torch singer in one, she stood center stage emptying her lungs—the power and grit in her voice stating clearly that her big, Southern talent is as natural and authentic as it comes.
It was one of those performances that leaves you scratching your head wondering why such a talent toils away in relative obscurity year after year, record after record. But talent alone (and in Moorer’s case both talent and looks) doesn’t guarantee you the keys to the kingdom in the music biz. It’s a harsh truth she learned during her tenure at MCA Nashville. “You sort of find yourself in the situation where you pour your heart and soul into something, and you have someone going, ‘You’re great, you’re the best thing ever. We’ll figure out how to do this.’ And then they don’t give a damn. They don’t care. They have 40 other acts, and they can just throw [your album] up against a wall and see if it sticks.”
Her time in the major-label world tested her faith and self-confidence. The album’s lead track, “I Ain’t Giving Up on You,” is a message to herself. That said, The Duel feels like a rebirth for Moorer. At the very least, it marks a crossroads, finding her exhaling after exiting the major-label treadmill.
The album—which she wrote at home in Nashille with Primm—is all about faith, she says. “And it could be faith in God, faith in yourself, faith in another person, faith in what you do, faith in the world, faith that everything’s gonna be all right or not going to be all right.”