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Allison Moorer
Miss Fortune

It's Christmas Day, snow is falling outside my window, the radiators are hissing and clanking like 1950s robots, and Allison Moorer's voice, like honey, seeps slow and sweet from the stereo. It's a warm accompaniment to a Wednesday spent in sweatpants and alone.

See, a friend and I were supposed to take a bus to Atlantic City today to celebrate Jesus' birth, but sleet and snow waylaid the motor coach, and now it's just me and Allison, here in Queens keeping each other company. And it's good to have her around on a day like today; I don't know if it's the steam heat or the strings swelling quietly behind Moorer's voice, but it's warm in here, and still, and the lure of the roulette wheel seems long gone.

This record, Moorer's third and best, calmly extracts the most essential elements of the country-western style of her previous efforts. She incorporates them into an album that takes as much from Phil Spector and Dusty Springfield as it does from Dolly Parton. It's a mix of orchestral pop songs, classic rock, and silky standards — three perfect settings for her deep, long, caramel voice. The resulting brew of American musical styles revels in its own diversity and tips its hat to that which has come before.

Moorer's first album, Alabama Song, was a pleasant, above-average stab at radio country; her second, The Hardest Part, began to tap more freely into the singer's darker side (her parents died in a murder-suicide) as well as her growing musical sense and willingness to break boundaries.

Miss Fortune is the personal album that had been eluding Moorer, and its greatest strength is that it's not one of those "stripped-down, personal, heart-to-heart" records that sacrifice music for lyrical excess. It showcases its production, and it should: it achieves a balance of music and voice and space that lets everything come through evenly.

The album opens with a misstep, particularly in the lyrical excess department. "Tumbling Down" lays it on thick for an opener, with tons of cascading strings and swells and melodramatic sentiments: "What happened to the world we painted/ The masterpiece of me and you/ Our work of art has all but faded/ There's nothing here except the blues."

Why Moorer falls into claptrap like that occasionally during the album when she makes it clear she can do much better is a mystery. She shines with "Ruby Jewel Was Here," a peppy tune about a 12-year-old prostitute that mixes the atmosphere of director Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" with the loneliness and frustration of the girl in Townes Van Zandt's mournful "Tecumseh Valley," not an easy feat when dealing with delicate subject matter.

Her songs work best when they're approached simply, as on "Cold in California," which laments a lost lover with the simple question: "Is it cold in California, like it is in Tennessee?"

The mistakes herein are the mistakes of an artist covering new ground and expanding herself; they are admissible mistakes. The strength Moorer has shown from first album to second album and finally to this genre-leaping experiment in self-recreation is enough to not only merit a listen, but to make sure we pay attention to the fourth album when it arrives.

by Neal Block

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