Blood, Allison Moorer’s new memoir and album, recounts the shocking story of how her father killed her mother and then himself after years of abusive behaviour. The unmitigated horror of her childhood experience is faced head on and she contemplates the legacy of such trauma and loss in her adult life. Unflinchingly honest and achingly raw, Blood is one of the most profoundly moving testaments to the pain of grief and the power of love that I have ever experienced.
To begin, I think it is important to understand these two works are part of a whole, and to fully appreciate the album you must read the memoir to which this is a companion. The atmosphere of the music is both heartbreaking and hopeful, and as you read her shocking story it is almost a necessary comfort to hear her sing.
At points during my reading I wondered how I could even endure hearing these stories, let alone how anyone could actually live through them. What makes Blood so powerful, and ultimately redemptive, is the love Moorer has for her mother, her sister Shelby Lynne who also suffered horrifically and most surprisingly, for her father who caused such unthinkable pain.
The memoir is structured in such a way as to almost reflect how the mind itself works – flashing forward and backwards through time, place and memory, trying to find connections and answers within. On the album the songs work in a similar way. Bad Weather starts us from the present, where she is listening to music on the radio and seeing only grey outside. The slow build of the song reflects her oppressive mood, the ghosts that whisper to her remind her that the rain will always come. Darkness cannot be avoided.
On the second song, a re-recorded version of Cold Cold Earth she sings from a detached third person narrative perspective, getting inside the head of her father whose story she imagines from a place of sympathy and understanding. Moorer writes her father’s life like a murder ballad, which might be tradition in the country genre but few who sing them have ever truly known what such a death really means. Such a sad, sad story, such a sad, sad world, she concludes, conveying a selfless sense of grace that takes your breath away.
Nightlight is a devastating song, a lullaby of love for her sister. Together the image of the children, protecting each other when the adults fail them is harrowing. Shelby Lynne’s introduction to the memoir wrecked me, much like this song. You can hardly even comprehend what these two went through but you understand that they have survived because of each other. The memoir is a testament to the power of sisterhood, and the connecting Blood that runs through their veins. The title of this work is taken from another old song, which she re-recorded for this album as a living tribute to the bond she has with her sister.
At one point during the song The Rock and The Hill, Moorer howls the word ‘Why’, seeking the answers that might give her comfort, might help her begin to understand her parents’ lives. The music unfurls too, with louder rockier and angrier sounds, reflecting her, and her mother’s, emotional upheaval. On The Ties That Bind she questions whether or not she can ever set herself free from the reality of her past. You feel helpless hearing her suffering.
In her portrayal of her father, Moorer demonstrates an incredible capacity for empathy. She considers why he was driven to his actions and I’m the One to Blame even uses lyrics he wrote (the music was written by her sister). In the memoir she admits her father did not have the same natural musical talent as her mother’s side of the family and this was a source of frustration and anger for him. By singing his song, where he acknowledges his own guilt and weakness, you can hear her trying to come to some kind of understanding about who he was and the legacy he leaves in her own blood.
Set My Soul Free is another haunting ballad, where she steps into her father’s shoes again. Depression haunts these songs but here death is a release from suffering, a chance to find the light that had evaded him in life.
In turn All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway) is a heartfelt plea for love and sounds like it could be from the perspective of her mother, or any woman who loves an abusive man. When all you crave is love and you are rewarded with violence and pain how do you ever reconcile that? How can you live with the scars? Some tragically never even get the chance.
Final song Heal is a prayer, pure and simple. Moorer sings about her suffering in a universal way, so that anyone no matter what pain they have experienced in life, can understand. Healing might be as natural as breathing but it’s not something that can happen in a day, a week, or even in decades. She writes about how part of her grieving process included, ‘Becoming wise enough to know that I’ll remain at least somewhat broken and letting go of the idea that I shouldn’t be’. Such moments of insight make Blood a true gift.
We can’t change the past or the blood that runs through our veins. Allison Moorer shows us that family traumas may define you but with courage you can find the words and music to express forgiveness, compassion, love, faith and hope. In the face of senseless violence, despair and death the way she seeks the light, the beauty and the melody is a true inspiration to us all.
Please consider supporting the artist by purchasing this powerfully moving record and book here: https://stores.portmerch.com/allisonmoorer/pre-order-blood-4192/blood-cd-book-combo.html
It’s a powerful album, no doubt, and this review is spot on. That the two sisters went on to carve their careers is somewhat amazing. Having said that I slightly prefer the album the pair of them did together a few years back, Not Dark Yet. A covers album but absolutely wonderful.
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That’s interesting – the cover album didn’t grab me as much. I will go back to it now though.