Alabama born balladeer Shelby Lynne had a horrific introduction to the perils of music.

Shelby awoke late one night almost 20 years ago as her drunken ex-Marine songwriter father Vernon shot her mother Laura, then himself, in a murder suicide.

Shelby was just 17.

Younger sister Alison Moorer, then 13, also witnessed the tragedy at their Franklinville home north of Mobile, Alabama.

Shelby exorcised her grief by helping bring up her younger sister who later opted to live with their aunt.

But Lynne, who dreamed of stardom since childhood, then headed to Nashville.

"I wanted to be a big star, but I didn't know how the system worked," Lynne now 36 said, "That's why I started bucking the system, 'cause I didn't know any better."

Lynne also tried solace in a short-lived marriage at 18.

"I was a baby when I married," recalled Lynne who played a saloon singer with Shotgun Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in 1991 movie Another Pair Of Aces.

"It was like a trip out of town."


Shortly afterwards the singer duetted with George Jones on If I Could Bottle This Up and landed a deal with Sony after appearing on the TNN Network.

"I think it's cool to make records when you're 18 years old with Billy Sherrill and George Jones," she remembers warmly.

Lynne released three mainstream Epic albums Sunrise, Tough All Over and Soft Talk with major producers Sherrill and Bob Montgomery.

She scored a couple of top-30 hits, I'll Lie Myself to Sleep and Things Are Tough All Over.

Soft Talk, her final CD for Epic, contained a series of torchy ballads that proved way too sombre for the mainstream.

She sang Tammy Wynette's Alive and Well and a trio of melancholy numbers with self-explanatory titles - A Lighter Shade of Blue, I've Learned to Live and the Max D Barnes tune You Can't Break a Broken Heart.

Tough All Over sold 150,000 and Soft Talk chalked up sales of 90,000 before she cut her swing album Temptation in 1993 with Judds and Kathy Mattea producer Brent Maher.

But the record label Morgan Creek - also then home of Janis Ian - went belly up so she cut her next album Restless for Magnatone in 1995.

Ms. Lynne stretched her creative muscles on Temptation.

It was a sunnier album, and she plunged into the writing process and ventured into big-band swing and honky-tonk shuffles.

The record went nowhere, but Lynne had already re-evaluated her life and career.

"I was getting older," she says. "I mean, when you're 18 you make your first record and you're a kid. Then you do the next record and you're 20. And then the next one you're 22. By the time I got to Temptation, I was in the middle 20s there going, I gotta get happy here or this is not going to make any sense.' The songs were going that way because I was changing, growing up into a woman."


Lynne's assessment of Nashville isn't complimentary.

"It's kind of a box," she says. "And, boy, I don't like being in a box. So I had to mix up and confuse everybody as much as possible."

By 1999 she was jaded by the industry that had spat her out and recorded her sixth album I Am Shelby Lynne for Island-Def Jam with producer Bill Bottrell of Sheryl Crow, Kim Richey and Madonna fame.

The soul-flavoured departure - a decade after her debut disc - won her a Grammy as best new artist.

In 1998, while living in a rented house in Mobile, Alabama, and suffering through a bad relationship, she began to write. The songs came fast and furious.

Life Is Bad, the emotional centrepiece of I Am Shelby Lynne, started as a poem and turned into a cathartic number.

Lynne followed up with the slicker and more pop-oriented Love, Shelby, in 2001.

Produced by hit-maker Glen Ballard, it was filled with some exceptional songs - most notably Killin' Kind.

Lynne then took time off away from the madness of the recording industry.

She stayed home and spent time reflecting and began writing the songs that formed the nucleus of the sparse and relatively subdued eighth album Identity Crisis.

The Capitol album features the single Telephone that debuts on Nu Country TV.

"I take country with me," Lynne says of her latter day music.

"I can't help that. I'm a country girl. I wouldn't say I'm a country singer, but I can do it. I just try to incorporate country with everything else I love and see what happens."

Shelby's song Dreamsome is also in the new Ashley Judd movie Someone Like You.



"I take a pint of whiskey and crack open its lid/ I drink the bottle empty just like my poor daddy did/ I take after my family, my fate's the blood in me/ no-one grows old in this family/ we are a dying breed." - Allison Moorer

Don't expect mirth and merriment from Alabama born diva Allison Moorer - murder and melancholia are her strong suit.

The title of her third album Miss Fortune (Lost Highway-Universal) is a regal reflection of its mood swings.

And, like previous disc The Hardest Part, the final track is a tortuous testament of the legacy of her songwriter father Vernon who killed her mother Laura in a murder suicide when Allison was 13 and sister Shelby Lynne 17.

Dying Breed follows sibling song Going Down whose lyrics include the album title and put the sting in the tail of this thematic tale.

Although Moorer telegraphs her pastels from intro track Tumbling Down, replete with art metaphor, there are subtle plot pirouettes in the string stained Cold In California and teary Let Go.

The singer breaks up her ruptured romance requiems with narcotic narrative Ruby Jewel Was Here and organ drenched gospel fervour of vitriolic vignette Hey Jezebel.

Ruby Jewel is a return to the period piece murder ballad - a staple of roots country with a deluge of detail crammed into this novelette of a hooker's daughter born in a bordello at the birth of the 20th century.

The victim delivers summary justice to a Wild West sheriff who deflowers her at 12 in the bordello and is shot with the gun he used in his crime.

But frontier justice was not made for Hollyweird westerns and telemovies back then.


All that is left after Ruby is hung from the gallows is her cell wall graffiti - the song title.

Although subjects plunge to heavy-duty angst, Moorer and producer R S Field (of Billy Joe Shaver and Webb Wilder fame) mine the mood with song sequencing.

Moorer, co-writer of 12 of the 13 songs, collaborated with Kelly Willis's singing spouse Bruce Robison on the jaunty Can't Get There From Here that precedes the optimism of Steal The Sun and esoteric Up This High.

Hey Jezebel - like Superwoman - is an oft-used song title (Chely Wright had one on her last album) but the plot is a variation on the honky tonk home wrecking vixen theme.

Moorer may regret uttering three words in No Place For A Heart but finds liquid refuge for her sorrows - the blue moon taproom - in Yessiree.

So what about the music?

Well, the strings and horns may be a departure from Allison's past but she doesn't go as pop as Shelby.

The singer bucks the star system without selling out to the pop pariahs or the Music Row puppeteers who prey on malleable minstrels.

"They're told 'if you cut these songs, you'll have a radio hit,' " Allison says of some peers, "which is, frankly, bullshit because nobody knows what a hit is."


Moorer, rescued from demo singing when her tune A Soft Place To Fall won an Oscar nomination in The Horse Whisperer, is realistic about her goals.

"I really had no intentions of a solo career," says Allison who wrote most tunes with Okie husband Butch Primm, "the music business isn't fit for human beings, frankly."

But it beats slaving on farms or factories or trying to get airplay on Australian radio.

Miss Fortune may appear to be a mistress of misery but if you let her breathe gently after dark she may grow on you like many depression refugees.

CD REVIEW - 2001


"The night was hot and steamy and crickets played their tunes/ everyone was sleeping under an August moon/ except one man that sat awake, slowly going mad/ regretting that he had thrown away the only love he had/ a slave to the bottle he had driven his family to leave/ a wife and two daughters he treated so terribly/ drunk with grief and loneliness, he wasn't thinking straight/ knew he couldn't live until they pardoned his mistake/ he went into the city to try to make amends/ asked his love for pity but she would not give in/ overwhelmed with sadness he reached for his gun/ and took her life, along with his, before the morning sun/ now they are lying in the cold, cold earth/ such a sad, sad story/ such a sad, sad world." - Allison Moorer.

When Allison Moorer awoke late one night 15 years ago as her drunk songwriter father Vernon shot her mother Laura, then himself, in a murder suicide she was just 13.

The tragedy, also seen by her sister Shelby Lynne, then 17, at their Franklinville home north of Mobile, Alabama, was so vivid in Allison's memory bank she exorcised her demons by writing a song about it.

A sparse, haunting version of Sad, Sad Song is the emotive hidden track on Allison's second album The Hardest Part (MCA).

Allison delivers the message with such primal passion it blows away even the most cynical critic.

The hidden track is powerful - not just because of the personal subject matter - but because the stark delivery drives it deep into the listener's psyche.

Steve Earle will be proud that Moorer, 28, has written a true-life murder ballad with little chance of her peers surpassing.

But fans of Moorer and neutral observers will not be surprised - she's one of the most powerful and passionate singers to emerge in the past decade.


Allison and Oklahoma born husband Doyle "Butch" Primm wrote 10 of the 11 tunes on her debut disc Alabama Song and all 11 tracks here.

Ironically, Allison also shares an embryonic entree with Shelby - her elder sister scored a movie role with Willie Nelson and Kristofferson in Another Pair Of Aces.

And it was the Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer that launched Allison when she played a honky tonk singer as she performed her evocative tune A Soft Place To Fall.

It was no shock that was the first single released from the soundtrack - by then Allison had landed her tune Bring Me All Your Loving on Trisha Yearwood's eighth album Where Your Road Leads.

The University Of South Alabama graduate headed to Nashville where she won acclaim for her role on a tribute concert for Walter Hyatt who died in a plane crash after recording as Uncle Walt's Band and under his own name with Lyle Lovett.

The Hyatt song Tell Me Baby is the only cover on her two albums - a true, top shelf showcase for her evocative material.

Lonesome Bob joins Allison as duet vocalist on No Next Time that precedes Feeling That Feeling - the entree for Sad, Sad Song.


Producer Kenny Greenberg and Buddy Miller swap electric and acoustic guitars with Allison on an album to be remembered long after the chart chaff and Nash Trash dust is blown away by the ravages of Top 28 time.

Moorer ensures her artistic longevity by breaking the positive love song cycle with pungent parables, kick started by the pathos propelled title track that slices sorrow with sweet serration, Say You Said Goodbye, It's Time I Tried and Best That I Can Do.

Myopic mainstream programmers won't know how to handle the spurned lover in Think It Over who tells her cheating partner to rack off after he cheats on a new lover and becomes a boomerang beggar to her.

No, the characters in Moorer songs are not frail femme fatales waiting for limp lovers to return - they get on with their lives and loves.

Well, with one exception - the character in the latest single Send Down An Angel calls upon winged intervention for advice and maybe salient solace.

"It's nearly 3 am and still no sight of him/ when it comes to love I'm in the dark/ Lord I don't understand why I stand by my man/ all he's ever done is break my heart/ won't you send down an angel from the blue/ to show me the righteous thing to do."

But by the time the singer's character draws her line in the sand in No Next Time and Feeling That Feeling Again she is back in her strident saddle and taking no prisoners.

Buy The Hardest Part and you will learn why cerebral country artists like Moorer deliver more.

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