Having achieved some degree of success and recognition with MCA and Universal, Allison Moorer sought out an independent label "that allows creative control but also has influence and muscle", as she put it. She found what she was looking for at Sugar Hill. She has continued to work with her husband, co-writer and co-producer Butch Primm, and to build upon her remarkable rapport with producer R.S. Field. Also she has retained her unwavering devotion to singing hard songs of deep and emotional truth. Everything else is just a little bit different. For instance the sound of The Duel. Whereas her last studio album was an elegant, sophisticated update on classic southern country soul, The Duel is heedless and blunt, and a little bit rough around the edges. This is intentional. Allison and Butch and Bobby took a new, thoroughly unrehearsed band into the studio and cut 11 songs in a dozen days. Butch even lured Bobby into picking up his drum sticks for the first time in 18 years. The rest of the core ensemble - Adam Landry (Stateside, The Sways), John Davis (Superdrag) - are hardly your first-call Nashville session dudes. But, no, The DuelL isn't exactly a rock record. It's simply the newest installment in the series of deeply personal and profoundly beautiful albums Moorer has made. It's a wee bit louder, that's all.
Some of the best records are all about a mood. The Duel
displays a kind of world-weariness bordering on despair, evidenced immediately by the languid vocal delivery and the sparse, laid-back, but intense sound of the band. The lyrics themselves may take a while to creep up on you. Moorer has never quite fit the Nashville mold, and her songs here certainly don't follow the Music Row formula. Instead they paint dark pictures of failed faith (the title tune), alcoholism, ("One on the House"), and death ("Sing Me to Sleep"). RS Field's perfect production owes more than a passing debt to Neil Young. If you think this all sounds depressing you'd be wrong. As with all great country music, exquisite execution, splendid sound and depth of feeling combine to create a cathartic, redemptive result. --Michael Ross, Amazon.com