By Bruce Sylvester
Book (Da Capo, hardbound, 301 pages)
CD (Autotelic/Thirty Tigers)
“Dammit, I’m still trying to make it right. I try to earn his approval even now and he’s been dead for 30 years. That sort of blows my mind. It makes exactly no sense and perfect sense all at the same time,” says Allison Moorer in her intense memoir titled (like her new CD) Blood, referring to family ties that linger as well as to the shed blood of her parents’ murder/suicide in 1986, when she was 14.
The quiet disc’s songs are penned in the voices of both parents (“The Rock and the Hill” in her mother’s) along with “Cold Cold Earth,” her chilling account of the early-morning tragedy. “Nightlight” expresses lifelong devotion to her older sister, Shelby Lynne (born Shelby Moorer). As for guilt-drenched “I’m the One to Blame” which her father wrote (surely to his wife), Shelby found the lyrics in his brief “The Rock and the Hill” case and set it to music. Allison wonders if one of her tortured father’s issues was that, for all his musical ambitions, his wife (who apparently had none) had more innate talent.
Avoiding black-and-white thinking, Moorer appreciates her alcoholic father’s raising her to think for herself. She empathizes with his anguish. A man with a death wish who knew that his self-inflicted end was drawing near, he joked, “Everybody will say, ‘He looks real natural except for that hole in his head.’”
Ever trying to understand the situation, she pours over autopsy reports. As for why her mother repeatedly came back after briefly leaving him, “They must’ve been addicted to the push and pull, the roller coaster of their relationship, so they had no choice but to take each other however they could, however the other demanded.”
One of her hopes is that her songs and book will help others in serious family situations. The book isn’t about her career, which has included Oscar and Grammy nominations. There’s little mention of her three husbands: Butch Primm, Steve Earle (father of her autistic son, John Henry), and now Hayes Carll. She does talk about how much John Henry’s love means to her. (“I am here to learn to allow him to redeem me.”) Realizing that she’ll never achieve closure, she ends the CD with a plea for herself, “Heal.”