New CDS from Allison Moorer, Ani DiFranco

A Mockingbird and a Righteous Babe

Mockingbird

ALLISON MOORER

(New Line)

Allison Moorer's voice teems with poignancy. It's the sound of heartbreak, pathos and uncertain hope. Few singers are capable of such gut-wrenching results. Unfortunately, Moorer often gets overlooked when pundits rank the best vocalists of the day — maybe it's because she brings a tad too much twang.

A decade ago, Moorer scored a breakout country hit with her cowritten number "A Soft Place to Fall." It appeared on the soundtrack to The Horse Whisperer, earning the singer an Oscar nomination and paving the way for Moorer's 1998 major-label debut album, Alabama Song — but the independent-minded singer soon had a falling out with Nashville. By 2004's The Duel, issued on the indie label Sugar Hill, Moorer was penning decidedly darker songs with then-husband Butch Primm and singing over a backing band that often raged like Crazy Horse. In 2006, Moorer released Getting Somewhere, a collection of songs she wrote mostly on her own. They were recorded only slightly less grungy than the ones from The Duel.

Like sister Shelby Lynne and current hubbie Steve Earle, Moorer refuses to be pigeonholed. On her new album, Mockingbird, the 35-year-old from Alabama eschews loud guitars and sensitively interprets songs made famous by artists ranging from Nina Simone and Johnny Cash to her sister Shelby and Cat Power. Produced by guitarist Buddy Miller (Emmylou Harris, Earle), the album rightfully places Moorer's vocals up front, draping her rich voice in a stirring backdrop of strings, churchy organ and pedal steel.

Whereas Cash's original hit version of "Ring of Fire" runs at a fast tempo punctuated with mariachi horns, Moorer slows and strips the number down, creating a provocative meditation on the act of falling in love that benefits from crying fiddle. Over little more than acoustic guitar and muted horn fills, she delivers "Both Sides Now" as though she were alone in her bedroom after a bad day. It easily eclipses Judy Collins' popular rendition and compares favorably with Joni Mitchell's haunting original. "Where Is My Love" is another stunning performance. Written by Chan Marshall for her 2006 Cat Power album, The Greatest, Moorer takes the song's obvious melancholy and gives it a more nuanced, dynamic reading.

Although Mockingbird is a covers album, Moorer provides one original with the title track — a moving song about self-empowerment that holds its own against the outside material. Interestingly, both Cat Power and Shelby Lynne have also recently released covers albums. Don't let Moorer's gorgeous voice get lost in the shuffle. Release date: Tues., Feb. 19. 3.5 stars —Wade Tatangelo

Hamburg, Germany, 10.18.07

ANI DIFRANCO

(Righteous Babe)

The first lady of punk-folk continues her rewarding "bootleg" concert series with a crisp recording made last October in Germany. Whereas DiFranco has opted for large, jazz-informed bands in recent years, this show finds her back in sparse surroundings. Accompanied by bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Allison Miller, the singer/songwriter with the penchant for alternate guitar tunings performs numbers that span her nearly two-decade career. DiFranco's in good voice, investing old screeds like "God's Country" with appropriate venom, while lending the recently released breakup ballad "Hypnotized" a fittingly choked-up reading. Energetic renditions of fan faves like "Little Plastic Castle" and "32 Flavors" close the show. During the between-song banter that has become an integral part of DiFranco's concerts, the singer speaks glowingly of her new daughter. This double-disc live album should prove a welcome arrival for those who have memorized every note on Living in the Clip, and it isn't a bad place to start if you're still unfamiliar with DiFranco's intense brand of acoustic rock. Available at righteousbabe.com. DiFranco performs March 11 at Tampa Theatre, Tampa. Look for the interview she did with Creative Loafing to run in advance of the concert. 3.5 stars —WT

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