SHELBY LYNNE & ALLISON MOORER
Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross)
Sorry, there are no surprises here.
Yep, everything is as good you would expect. Actually, maybe better. But even that’s no surprise.
That Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer would sing well was a given. Each sister has the kind of voice that crosses back and forth between soul and old school country, between church and bar, between tough and tender.
On top of this is that in the way of the cliché-that-often-enough-is-true, siblings singing together are expected to blend at some higher, mystical level, than mere closely matched voices. Those damned Everlys and those troubled Louvins, the blessed Stanleys and the deceptively blissful Roches, all set a standard.
To those names you can add the Moorer sisters whose combination can sometimes be so seamless as to obscure exactly who is doing which part, but whose individual lines back and forth, despite subtly different styles and tones, feel like an internal question and answer session.
But good voices still need decent material and - maybe even more importantly – an interpreter’s soul. It is here where Not Dark Yet, an album about the shades of pain and the way we work our way out from under it, works its real magic.
There is a gorgeous, moving and yet unfussy original song, Is It Too Much, to close the album with its weight of personal understanding and shared burden. “Is it too much to carry in your heart?/No one else sees the memories/No one else lives it with me,” it says in one part that reverberates for any who know the Moorer family history. “Don’t you know you ain’t by yourself/I’m right here to help you lay it down,” it says in another which feels true for anyone who has their own family history.
The other nine tracks draw from others, and some unexpected others too, like The Killers’ My List (which opens the album with graceful, slow turning soul), Nirvana’s Lithium (which teeters enjoyably on the edge between comfort and discomfort as much as between country and rock) and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms (done gently if, for me, a little too withdrawn).
Even within more obvious sources, with songs from the Louvins (the sweet sadness of Every Time You Leave), Jessi Coulter (the wistful yearning of Looking For Blue Eyes), Merle Haggard (the light plea of Silver Wings) and Townes Van Zandt (the hard edge of Lungs), Moorer and Lynne reshape the ground enough within each track to put this more in keeping with their solo albums, and their uncovered humanity.
And when they take their country forward a couple of decades, the poised but still (deliberately) just out of focus take on Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires’ The Color Of A Cloudy Day has about it the feel of a quiet aside from the sisters.
If there is a centrepiece, or a signpost, for this record it is in the way Lynne and Moorer take one of Bob Dylan’s late career gems, Not Dark Yet, from the human to the spiritual and back again without ever resorting to churchifiying or underplaying.
Along with producer Teddy Thompson, they craft a simple and yet elegant space of brushed drums, school hall piano and church organ for the song which lays out the scope for both despair and a kind of acceptance, and leaves it to us to decide which route to take.
Which is equally true of the album, a record which doesn’t claim hope and sadness as equals any more than beauty and pain are, but doesn’t rule it out either.