Those who already know Moore may only know him from his previous incarnation as a guitar-slinging Texan. Those who haven't heard his earlier work will have a hard time connecting his earlier blues-rock background to his current folk-rock inflected alt.country sound. His latest betrays few hints of his past, filling out this disc (his sixth) with superb pop melodies and adventurous arrangements that layer harmony and echo on meters that effortlessly flow from pop 4/4 to dreamy waltz-time interludes.
Touch-points like Jeff Buckley's introspective folk and Wilco's pop constructs are fleshed out by loping tempos, as well as pedal steel that is more atmosphere than twang. The 7+ minute "Caroline" is a lush Badfinger-like construct that alternates between concise melodic pop and trippy psychedelia. Having recorded this album over many months with a revolving set of musicians in several cities and along the road, the songs explore a wide range of styles, including the shuffling country soul of "April," the jazzy blues of "Abilene," and the otherworldly Theramin-inspired "Ordinary People." It's a heady collection of sophisticated sounds that mixes primary elements with shadings of trip-hop.
When Moore cranks up the rock 'n' roll electricity, as he does for "New Day," it's more a wall-of-buzz (with Penny Lane-ish trumpets) than Texas blues. Even the rootsy dobro rant "Bastard" sounds as though it were processed through a bit of Tom Waits' alley-way sensibility. Moore's lyrics are similarly sophisticated, mixing allegory with word play for poetic effect, but without destroying the narratives or characters. His sketch of Antarctic explorer Sir Robert Scott's dramatically portrays the mariner's failed attempt to reach the South Pole before anyone else (he was beaten by Norwegian Roald Amundsen), and his death on the return journey.
Perhaps the album's greatest achievement is how effortlessly it combines its breadth of style and depth of experimentation. Rather than sounding constructed, it sounds like an organic whole that tumbled out of Moore's imagination. There's a great deal of craft in the unusual, detailed arrangements, but like the lyrics, singing and playing, it's in service of fashioning a superbly coherent result from often disparate ingredients.
released August 8, 2004
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