The Freelance Mentalists.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
 
Some Songs Seem to Make Sense Right Now

Allison Moorer, "One on the House" and "Louise Is in the Blue Moon"

I know we aren't supposed to be into alt.country, it's hella uncool, it's uncooler than anything right now, and mostly I agree. But although I love Big and Rich and Gretchen Wilson, they are not the only game in town, country means a lot of things, it isn't just about shininess and partiness, there's still room for someone who wants to walk away from Ellivhsan. there are a lot of things that I still have to say about Moorer's The Duel that I didn't say here, so I'll start by saying that among the really quite radical things she does on this record is kill off a character without us even knowing it, without us even thinking to look for it, we don't expect country songwriters to do intertextuality especially when they're women.

But check it out: on "Yessirree," from Miss Fortune, Moorer created a bar "called the Blue Moon Taproom" where the bartender laughs at your jokes and gives old alcoholics drinks if that's what makes them happy. It was clearly her vision of heaven, a very country heaven at that, and she sang it like she was already there, like it was the only afterlife she'd let herself believe. (Someday I'll write about Moorer's beef with heaven, something she does on every single album, a legacy to her murdered mom.)

But so here in 2004 she has two related songs that shed light on the story. In "One on the House," our protagonist is begging the bartender for a drink even though she doesn't have any scratch for it. She's lived a hard life: "Wasted my fortune on having a ball / Hit the bottle like a calf at a cow". She knows she doesn't deserve any handouts: "Can't say I'm proud of this life of mine / But begging is brand new to me." She's not anything more than a poor alcoholic at the end of the line: "I'm just a poor soul who wants to get soused / Give me one on the house." Clearly, she's talking to the bartender at the Blue Moon. Who is, obviously, St. Peter. She's begging for more than just a shooter; she's begging for admittance to the Blue Moon, that alco-heaven that her songwriter so meticulously laid out in "Yessirree." SHE IS DEAD.

But who is she? We find out a few songs later. Her name is Louise, and we learn from the title of the song that she's already in the Blue Moon. This is an early Springsteen style number, characters like Skinny and the Coolsville County Sheriff and Old Danny wander through the song, doing whatever they subversively do; Skinny, for example, is "off his rocker," which usually means one is crazy, but then Moorer goes one more and pulls an Edward Lear: "Skinny's off his rocker / He left it on the road / And even though he'll miss it / He had to let it go." This is an LSD trip cloaked in lazy dirty 1970's outlaw country, this is a Jessi Colter song more than it is Martina or Sara or Patti or Jo Dee or Fetchin' Gretchen, I expect to hear Tompall Glaser come squealin' round the corner in a tan El Dorado any time now.

And as for Louise? She's "in the Blue Room / Puttin' up her dukes / Walkin' on rocky socks / Punchin' numbers on the juke." Looks like her entreaties worked. Looks like she made it. Looks like Moorer and St. Peter let this little straggly rummy into the Pearly Gates after all. Looks like a work of compassion for someone whom none of the rest of us would look at twice. Looks like a safety net. Looks like a sneaky work of love by a songwriter whose reach and heart and soul are off the charts, and so therefore is she, but I don't care, I think she's probably written eleven of the year's top songs here and no one knows it. Allison Moorer's writing is like George Costanza's driving, she's doing things up there that we have NO IDEA about.
 
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