It’s easy to look back in anger, but long-held acrimony plumbs the depths of the soul only to rise into view like a wave from the seemingly calm sea. It’s unexpected and sometimes all-consuming, and sometimes grows into a tsunami that endangers everything and everyone in its path, including ourselves. And when or if it recedes, we tend to sidestep blame, pointing elsewhere to explain away our actions.
We take that anger from long ago, in other words, and unconsciously direct it elsewhere.
Learning to accept that which we cannot change, of embracing empathy and forgiveness not just for those who transgressed against us but for how we processed it, that’s not so easy. Yet it’s necessary in order to move on.
To that end, Allison Moorer’s latest album, Blood, is a compelling companion piece to her just-released memoir of the same name. In both, she delves into the tragedy that shaped her and her sister Shelby Lynne’s lives. Their parents had a volatile marriage due to their father’s heavy drinking and violent rages, which culminated one August morning in 1986 when he murdered their mother, from whom he was estranged, before taking his own life.
The 10 songs that make up the album explore the family dynamics that led to the tragedy, as well as its lingering impact. “Bad Weather,” the opening track, portends what’s to come in the song cycle, with long-ago storm clouds hovering over her in the present. “Cold Cold Earth” – which she first recorded years ago – then offers a journalistic account of the storm in question. As she summarizes in the last line, “such a sad, sad story, such a sad, sad world.”
“Nightlight” revisits a memory that defines the madness from a child’s perspective, engendering sadness while simultaneously explaining her bond with her sister, who provided comfort in dark times; in a way, it’s the flip side to Shelby’s “I’ll Hold Your Head” on Revelation Road: “Lying here together in the dark/You might not think I feel your heart/I promise you I do, it’ll always be us two/you’re my nightlight/you’re my nightlight.”
The taut “The Rock and the Hill” then slides behind her mother’s eyes:
The two songs that follow, “I’m the One to Blame,” and “Set My Soul Free,” are set from the perspective of her father, an aspiring songwriter whose talent didn’t match his dreams. The former features lyrics he wrote long before his demons got the best of him (Shelby added the music after his death), yet in some ways they foreshadow the tragedy to come: “Only time will tell/How we’ll get along/Love is not the same/once the trust is gone.” The latter returns to the August morning in question, when bitterness from a lifetime’s disappointments led him to do the unthinkable: “I can’t stand to see the sun shine one more time/without her, without her.”
From that point on, the song cycle veers to Allison coming to grips with the psychic scars that incident left her with. In “The Ties That Bind,” she asks of her father’s legacy, “Why do I carry what isn’t mine? Can I take the good and leave the rest behind? Can I let go and watch it all unwind/Can I untie the ties that bind?” “All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway)” moves past those rhetorical questions and faces the one thing she wanted that he never gave, his love, and the things he gave (“your phrases and your fists”) that no one would want.
The touching title track tackles her adult bond with Shelby – “you don’t have to explain/I’ve got your blood running through my veins” – before closing with a snippet of “Side by Side,” the same American Songbook tune that Shelby closed “I’ll Hold Your Head” with.
“Heal,” the final song, is both an epiphany and a plea set to song. Co-written with Mary Gauthier, it recognizes that to step from the darkness one needs to consciously choose to walk into the light. “Help me lay my weapons down/Help me give the love I feel/Help me hold myself with kindness/And help me heal.”
In short, Blood is a soulful treatise that resonates like few albums I’ve heard this year, let alone this decade. It’s a personal journey through pain and darkness that shares universal truths about life, love and forgiveness. Don’t miss experiencing it.