Despite critical praise, country radio never fully warmed to Moorer’s gracefully gritty sound, which channels Memphis and Muscle Shoals as much as it does Nashville. Now, after releasing four major-label projects, the 31-year-old exited Music Row last year in search of a top-notch indie. Before the ink dried on her contract with Sugar Hill, she was back in the studio tracking The Duel with husband and collaborator Butch Primm, who for the past decade has served as a less-visible David Rawlings to her Gillian Welch. The record is a bit more rough-hewn (and at times, noisier) than her last few releases, kicking off nicely with the slow-burning “I Ain’t Giving Up on You,” before picking up steam with the chugging “All Aboard.”
Her craft sits equally comfortable whether on barstool (“One on the House”) or pew (the stellar, solo-piano title track), each lyric full of rawness and immediacy. These 11 selections prove her voice is as big as anyone’s out there. What distinguishes Moorer from other Southern sirens is the discipline her singing exudes. She knows when to whisper and when to wail, giving her songs room to breathe. And be heard as they’re meant to be heard.