Allison Moorer: Blunt Force Honesty


Allison Moorer uses creative compulsions to come to terms with divorce

When she was younger, alt-country warbler Allison Moorer used to believe that she wanted an intellectual existence, a life of the mind. But now, at 42, she sighs, “What I’ve realized that I have is a life of the hands—I’m always just making something, or I’m writing or drawing something, because it makes me feel connected; it makes me feel real. It’s the same way with music—I just want to make it.” Hence, the singer’s latest ambitious set, Down To Believing, which documents her recent split from her husband, Steve Earle, and—on the bluesy apology “Mama Let The Wolf In”—even the motherly guilt she felt when their son John Henry, now four, was diagnosed with autism two years ago. “It’s pretty brutal,” she assesses of the autobiographical disc.

Which is why the singer—who, along with her singer/songwriter sister Shelby Lynne, suffered their parents’ murder/suicide as kids back in ’86—has been finding peace of mind in an unusual artsy-craftsy outlet lately: Along with Rosanne Cash and several other well-heeled ladies, she’s part of an actual sewing circle that the women all jokingly refer to as the Stitch-and-Bitch. They try to meet every couple of weeks at one of their New York apartments, with tasty snacks on hand, and the latest patterns from noted seamstress Natalie Chanin’s DIY company, Alabama Chanin. “We only get two or three hours, and we’ll do it on a weekday afternoon,” says Moorer. “But we will sit and sew and talk about our lives, and have sisterhood and friendship. It’s one of my favorite things in my life.”

For Moorer, the tradition first started in Scotland four years ago, when she bumped into Cash backstage at a Celtic festival. “Rosanne and I were only acquainted, not really friends at that point,” she says. “But I was wearing an Alabama Chanin outfit that I had made, so Rosanne asked me, ‘Are you wearing an actual Alabama Chanin?’ And I said, ‘Yeah! Natalie’s my friend, and I make her kits.’ So, we made a plan to get together and sew not too long after that.” The kits stress one thing—everything must be hand-stitched, with no sewing machine involved. “It’s all organic, quite a beautiful process, and I think it keeps us all grounded,” she says.

Every last note of Down To Believing was constructed the same way—painstakingly, lovingly, with an eye for the smallest detail. It opens with the deceptively chiming “Like It Used To Be,” which mourns her relationship’s passing with a growling chorus of “Don’t wanna say goodbye, but it’ll set me free/It ain’t ever gonna be like it used to be.” Inclement weather is also used to signal encroaching trouble (tempestuous, guitar-squall ballad “Thunderstorm Hurricane,” and a cover of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”), as is plain puzzlement (“Tear Me Apart,” “If I Were Stronger”). But ultimately, Moorer settles on forgiveness, cleaning every last trace of her ex out of their residence with celebratory stomper “I’m Doing Fine.” “I think this is the most free record I’ve ever made,” she says. “I just didn’t give a damn about where it landed, who liked it—I just made it. And I had no dude hanging over my shoulder, telling me what to do. And I think that shows.”

On Earle’s new effort Terraplane Blues, there’s a telling track called “Better Off Alone,” wherein he drawls, “Though I taught you everything you know/I learned a thing or two myself/And so I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone/I’m better off alone.” Given that Moorer was Wife Number Seven for the artist, are these lyrics a bit of blame-shouldering? She pauses. “Well, he’s never said that to me,” she says. “But you know, here’s the thing—I really don’t have anything but good to say about Steve. And he didn’t teach me everything, but he did teach me a lot, and in fact, I taught him some things, too. And we have a beautiful son that we work very hard to take care of together, so that’s our ground zero. So, I don’t regret our relationship. I really don’t. And as far as his wives go? Hey—I do hold the record. We were together for seven years!”

—Tom Lanham