With "A Soft Place to Fall," Moorer hopes to be on the rise

Brian Wahlert, October 1998

Many new country artists release a single or two, then maybe an album, and then they're forgotten within a year. Not Allison Moorer - her high-profile introduction made sure she wouldn't be overlooked.

Her "A Soft Place to Fall" was chosen as the musical centerpiece for Robert Redford's critically acclaimed movie "The Horse Whisperer," and Moorer even got to perform the song in the movie as Redford slow-danced with co-star Kristin Scott Thomas.

"It was pretty incredible," the 26-year-old Moorer says of the experience. "I had never been on the set of a major movie before...And getting to work with Robert Redford was really, really cool."

If country fans had gotten to hear that song - and many didn't because it stiffed at country radio - they would have discovered a very traditional country singer with a deep, rich voice, like a more breathy, not quite as twangy Bobbie Cryner.

As it turns out, though, there's much more to Moorer's music than that one incredible ballad, as her debut album, "Alabama Song," attests.

The album is country through and through - Moorer's voice and phrasing ensure that - but at the same time, some uptempo songs, particularly the catchy "The One That Got Away," sound like they wouldn't be out of place at country radio.

Even more impressive than Moorer's wonderfully traditional sound is that although she started writing songs just four years ago, she co-wrote 10 of 11 songs on her debut and even "Bring Me All Your Lovin'" on Trisha Yearwood's latest.

She hands most of the credit to her co-writers, like her husband, Doyle "Butch" Primm. "Luckily, I write with people who are great at it...Songwriting is something that I never really meant to do; it just sort of happened. And I hope to get better at it."

Moorer was raised in Frankville, Ala. "I'm from a real musical family," she says. "I'm told I started singing when I was three. I don't remember it, but that's what they say. So, I grew up doing it. My dad was a weekend musician, and my mother was a really talented singer. And my sister and I just grew up singing."

But tragedy struck the family in 1986 when Moorer's father shot and killed her mother and then himself. Moorer, just 13 at the time, and her older sister, Shelby Lynne, 17, were forced to fend for themselves, so Shelby Lynne entered singing contests around their home in Alabama to make money.

She, of course, went on to mild country success with Epic Records, where she released her first single in 1988, but Moorer never really considered pursuing a solo career because "I thought (my sister) had that pretty much wrapped up."

"I'm the younger sister, and when we were growing up, she was always the lead singer, and I was always the harmony singer. That's just how we grew up and how we did things, so it was just a real natural thing for me to go on the road with her and sing background for her."

But Moorer bristles when asked to compare her music with Lynne's. "I don't know that she's had any real influence on me musically," she says, and points out that her own traditional country style is much different from Lynne's jazz and pop leanings.

As soon as Moorer finished her degree at the University of South Alabama, she decided to forge out on her own. "I moved to Nashville in 1993 to try to maybe pursue a background singing career. So I started doing that, and it was when I met my husband, and we started writing songs together that it kind of clicked for me, and we started pursuing (a solo career) together."

Primm gave Moorer confidence that she could be a successful solo artist, but her career didn't really take off until she met MCA exec Tony Brown.

"He signed me himself. He was real instrumental in convincing people at the label to believe in me and the songs that I had. He's just a real big believer in me, and as far as I'm concerned, he's just an angel. It's not often that a brand-new artist gets to do a record full of her own songs."

So far, the album has produced three singles: "A Soft Place to Fall," "Set You Free," and the title track. Just released to radio, "Alabama Song" starts out with the singer longing to return to her home state, but with a clever turn in the last few lines, it turns into a love song. Written by Moorer and Primm, the song has some of the sweet nostalgia of a "Strawberry Wine."

For her part, however, Moorer says she doesn't worry too much about radio success. "I leave that to the record company. My job is to make sure I love every song on the album, so I don't care what they pick as a single."

Unlike other artists, who become obsessed with chart-watching, Moorer says, "It's enough to drive you crazy if you start doing that stuff. I mean, jeez, you can't control it...There's some things that you can have control over, and some things you can't, and I think the things you can't, you can't worry about."

Although she has no disparaging remarks for country radio ("I think it's fine. I don't really think about it that much," she says), her personal musical preferences lean, not surprisingly, toward the traditional.

"I like Lee Ann Womack. I think she's got a great voice, and she's got a real country voice...I've always liked Vince Gill, and I love what he's doing now. I'm really glad he's going back to more traditional country. I love Buddy Miller and Julie Miller. I've always been a big Emmylou Harris fan. Junior Brown is about the coolest thing around. I like people like that, who do their own thing."

Comparing her new career as a solo artist to singing backup for her sister, Moorer says, "I like doing my own songs, and I love being the lead voice. I love singing harmony as well, and I love to sing background. But if I had to choose, believe me, I'd take this."

And the future? "The main thing I want to do is continue making music that I can be proud of. And I really want to tour as much as possible...I think that's the best way to build a loyal fan base, and that's the way to get out there to the people and let them see what you're all about. Radio and videos are a beautiful thing, and I think they expose you to a big ol' audience, but I think there's something special about seeing somebody play live...I just want to be able to keep doing it. I don't really have any big expectations."

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com