screen edits by David Nowels
Saturday night, Allison Moorer and Kenny Greenberg performed live from Moorer’s library for a very special performance. The pair revisited Moorer’s 2000 masterpiece, The Hardest Part, performing the album in its entirety. I don’t use the term “masterpiece” lightly in any circumstances, so just know that I’m passionate when it comes to this album. I regard Moorer’s sophomore release so highly, I’d consider it one of my top 10 favorite Americana releases of all time. So, when I heard Moorer was going to perform the album, with guitarist Kenny Greenberg no less, I knew I had to tune in. I’m so glad I did. It was a pretty special hour, with stunning performances of some of my favorite songs as well as some insight into the album’s history and recording process.
Moorer released her debut Alabama Song in 1998, saw some momentum, and found herself next with one of the album’s songs (“A Soft Place to Fall”) featured in the soundtrack to the Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer. A performance of the song ensued at the Oscars, and MCA Nashville and Tony Brown undoubtedly saw themselves with what they envisioned as a rising new country star in their roster. Thing is, like many of the labels at that time, MCA Nashville had really had no clue what to do with Moorer or the independent streak she shares with sister, Shelby Lynne. Moorer went into the studio with a new batch of songs inspired by her childhood turmoils and proceeded to put her own vision to tape. Moorer boldly recorded and co-produced a conceptual album of her own songs, based on personal tragedy that still possesses a timeless quality. A quality that still resonates nearly twenty years later. Revisiting The Hardest Part today, I’m still enamored by it. The production is lush and warm, which serves the reflective and contemplative nature of the songs. As good as the songs are, it’s Moorer’s sultry southern drawl and fervor that really drive home the heartache and meaning behind these songs.
Settled into the cozy comforts of her library, Moorer and guitarist Kenny Greenberg, took us on an hour-long, informative look back at their efforts kicking off with the album’s first cut and title track. “Day You Said Goodbye” saw Greenberg ‘rock starring’ his licks and definitely knocking out any accumulated rust. Through their recollections, the duo recalled the sessions at East Nashville’s famed Woodland Sound Studios which had recently suffered damage from a tornado in ’98. One of the causalities of the storm had been the roof and air conditioning units. As Moorer explained, they became some “…seaty, funky people. We were ripe.” Despite best efforts, portable A/C units and fans did little to cool the August sessions in the studio, but they persevered and even preserved a memento of the situation in the intro of “Think It Over,” with Moorer stating: “Wait, let me get the sweat off my fingers.”
Much of the evening’s in-between reflection had Moorer and Greenberg speaking of the musicians that came together for the album’s creation. Particularly legendary engineer, the late Don Smith as well as the late Jay Bennett. Of Smith, Moorer said, “wanting to use a specific engineer is like flying a hooker into Vegas”, but that’s exactly what they did. Bennett, was remembered for his many contributions, one of which was the lush Mellotron that haunts “Send Down An Angel.” Drummer Chad Cromwell, bassist Michael Rhoades and pedal steel maestro, Russ Pahl were also fondly recalled, as were several others.
The entire performance had an earthiness and sincerity wrapped about it. That along with the weight of the songs made for a magical hour spent. Before closing things out with “Feeling That Feeling Again,” Moorer casually mentioned that she thought The Hardest Part was out of print. That my friends is a grave injustice. Here 20 years later in an ocean of mediocrity, where we see needless expanded or vinyl editions of albums released casually, a true masterpiece remains under appreciated and difficult to acquire. Where do we start the petition for a re-release?
Definitely check out the performance with Allison Moorer and Kenny Greenberg while it remains available. You can find it on Facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=332543697776780
You can find out more information on Allison Moorer and her newest project, a memoir and companion album, Blood here: http://allisonmoorer.com/