Allison Moorer, one of the strongest voices in alt-country, returns for her eighth studio album and the first for eOne Nashville. Down to Believing is Moorer’s most provocative album since 2004’s The Duel and her most personal, with many of the tracks dealing with difficult family matters.
The title track references the dissolution of Moorer’s marriage to Steve Earle. Considering whether they were willing to work to keep the marriage together, Moorer sings, “I guess it comes down to believing and whether we do or we don’t. I guess it comes down to staying or leaving and whether we will or we won’t.” That level of introspection, delving deep into the painful issues at heart, defines the album.
“Tear Me Apart” is a raw and fierce accusation (“The thing you said to me last night is breaking my heart; don’t know why you wanna tear me apart”) that culminates with r screaming, “What am I supposed to do when I want to scream every time I look at you,” her voice booming and defiant. On “If I Were Stronger,” however, Moorer points the finger back at herself, taking some of the blame for the breakup. “I wish there was something in my heart to give you but I felt around and there’s nothing there,” she croons over morose piano arpeggios.
The most heartbreaking song finds Moorer in a state of hopelessness and unwarranted guilt. “In Mama Let the Wolf In,” Moorer deals with her reaction to her son’s autism diagnosis. “Baby, I’m sorry. I didn’t see it coming,” she sings over deceptively upbeat alt-country chords. In the song, Moorer personifies the disease as a menacing entity that intends to “pillage and plunder,” and was unintentionally let into her son’s life by the unsuspecting Moorer.
Though Down to Believing deals with a significant amount of sorrow, it’s not a total downer. “Blood,” a love song written for her sister, Shelby Lynne, serves as a light in the album’s darkness.
On tracks like “Tear Me Apart” and “Like It Used to Be,” Moorer wears her rock influences on her sleeve, belting out the words with a ferocity that rivals any arena rocker. Unlike many pop singers, however, Moorer understands that just because she has a powerful voice doesn’t mean she needs to constantly have her vocals turned up to eleven. On the softer numbers, Moorer dials it down and sings in a soft voice that massages the soul even as it carries the burden of Moorer’s pain. Moorer’s dynamic voice, ranging from low alto with sultry vibrato to a hair-raising twangy scream, has long been her musical strength. On Down to Believing, Moorer’s songwriting and honesty step to the forefront and take her music to the next level.