Since making her debut with 1997’s Alabama Song, Allison Moorer has been one of country music’s most consistent albums artists. The singer-songwriter has three unqualified masterpieces to her credit— the flawless stone-country heartbreak cycle of The Hardest Part, the politically charged The Duel, and the somber, heady Southern Gothic of Crows. Despite having those triumphs— and other excellent albums like Alabama Song and Good Fortune— to her credit, Moorer’s latest effort, Down to Believing, is perhaps the finest album of her career because it finds Moorer challenging both her singing and her songwriting voices to plumb truly difficult emotional depths.
It isn’t easy to follow up a universally praised debut album, especially when you don’t have the novelty of the new in your corner. Sometimes what sounds so fresh is just by the virtue of being the first time your voice has been heard. The second time around, you can only rely on the strength of your material. Being different is no longer enough.
In an ideal world, Jason Isbell would somehow be able to switch the titles of his two most recent albums. While his previous effort, Southeastern, chronicled his struggle toward sobriety and found liberation in the powers of redemption and self-worth, Isbell’s latest, Something More Than Free digs deep into the foundations of the contemporary South. In terms of tone and theme for each of these exceptional records, the titles would be more fitting were they swapped, and it’s simply remarkable that slight misnomers are as close as Isbell comes on either album to striking a false note.