Review: Allison Moorer, 'Blood: A Memoir'

by Kim Ruehl (@kimruehl), Folk Alley

Allison Moorer Blood book CD review Kim Ruehl

Early in the morning on August 12, 1986, while it was still dark out, a teenage girl heard a gunshot, and then another, and she knew, somewhere deep inside, what had just happened. Her father shot her mother and then himself. It had been somewhat of a long time coming, but such a thing is never expected.

That girl and her older sister, both, grew up to become some of the finest songwriters in Americana music: Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne.

It’s a horrible, tragic story that Moorer shares in a new 300-page memoir titled Blood. But mixed into all the awfulness is unwavering love and compassion for parents and sister, deep confusion, and a certain melancholic longing—for her parents, for what might have been and what never could be.

If you know Moorer’s songs, you know she’s a gifted storyteller—a fact she seems to have inherited from her parents. Here, without the mercy of music, she unfurls this life story in a jumble of vignettes and associations. It feels a little unsettling at first, but then the whole premise of the story is unsettling. That’s the way trauma holds onto our memories for a lifetime: Triggering images from years ago, when we happen upon things like someone’s hat or a hairbrush, a purse or an old guitar.

As the story progresses, the unsettling pace of memory and present-moment storytelling settles into somewhat of a rhythm, like the way such tragedy folds into daily life as one moves forward, as one must. In fact, Moorer is so proficient at this sort of collecting-scraps approach to storytelling that folks wrestling with their own traumas should proceed with caution.

An excellent place to start is with the album, which provides both accompaniment and release thanks to the wordless whine of a pedal steel, the walking pace of the chunky guitar chords, compelling the listener and singer both forward with promise.

In its stunning seventh track, “The Ties That Bind,” Moorer sings:

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?

Oh, the loaded questions that don’t have answers. But these are the things for which we have songs. Somehow Blood the album makes Bloodthe book easier to digest. One can only imagine that is what music has done for Moorer’s own story.

Whether you gravitate toward the music, the prose, or both, Bloodis a horrible story, beautifully told. Gobble it up but bring a blanket.

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'Blood: A Memoir' is available at Amazon.com.

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