Hunter Moore, Delta Moon (Tangible)
Hunter Moore’s best songs are careful, deliberate folk-pop tunes about the importance of moral values and the quiet inner struggles that make or break them. His arrangements are just as thoughtful as his lyrics, unfolding with an acoustic string rhythm and accented by a slide guitar that alternates between a darkly haunting and sweetly singing sound. Keeping it all gently percolating is the unusually sensitive, moody percussion of two Nashville master musicians, Kenny Malone and Sam Bacco.
Delta Moon, Moore’s second album, reveals how he’s developed into one of Nashville’s most precise and eloquent songwriters. His skills, however, have done little to change his status as one of the city’s most overlooked talentsthis is likely due to the nature of his songs. Moore has a gentle, compassionate sensibility in an era when music is expected to be loud, hard, flagrant, or vulgar. Moreover, listeners these days tend to be leery of songwriters who wax sentimental or talk about the merit of work, family, and spiritualityan understandable reaction, considering how many horrible songs have been committed in the name of such ideals. But Moore affirms his themes by evoking the lives of real American people, calmly and confidently animating those lives with genuine voices.
On the surface, his songs sound as if they’re filled with clichés: There’s the tender, sure love of an elderly couple (“Just Because We Do”), the man who remains in his hometown to follow the blue-collar ethic of his father (“Oleana”), the couple that struggles to find a way to make their actions match their words and feelings (“Condition of the Heart”), and a man who comes to realize the preciousness of his family’s weekly routine (“Delta Moon”). These are common themes, especially in country music, yet Moore finds ways to make them ring true without sacrificing the catchiness of his tunes.
He fails, however, when he gets more ambitious. “Lost Train” attempts to make a statement about people and events that get swallowed up by history, but Moore never takes his song beyond the contrived fantasy of a locomotive leaping off the rails. “Other People’s Misery” is the songwriter’s stab at dark humor, but it sounds as though his conscience never quite buys what he’s saying. Unlike Dave Olney or Lyle Lovett, Moore doesn’t have the ability to make his evil characters sound real; he never sounds convincing when he says that he takes pleasure in other people’s troubles.
Instead, Moore must bear the burden of being a thoughtful, sane man. He’s onto something, for sure; but, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, he has the misfortune of being a deeply honest man in a world where it’s out of fashion. With any luck, Delta Moon will illuminate Moore’s abilities so that those who would enjoy his work might at least know he’s out there, trying to say what has been always been right about the American way.
Sonny George & the Tennessee Sons, June 29 at 12th & Porter
When Sonny George gets onstage, the potential for gimmickry engulfs himfrom his shiny leather outfits to the familiar chords that kick off most of his songs. But George’s music has nothing to do with the fashionable silliness and superficiality that often cloud the intentions of many modern-day rockabilly performers. His slicked-back-and-sideburned rebel look may come straight out of Hollywood, but the unblinking purity and steel-belted whomp of his music come directly from his heart and his crotch.
As George made clear in a recent performance with his Tennessee Sons quintet, he plays no-nonsense music that happens to be a hell of a lot of fun. It’s hard to pin down exactly how he tweaks new life into such lyrical stereotypes as “Dixie Doll,” “Lovesick Daddy,” and “Gotta Travel On,” but much of it has to do with his deep, strong purr of a voice. Most baritone rockers wield the lower range of their pipes with threatening bravado; George doesn’t ignore the inherent machismo in his swaggering vocals, but he lays it out with a gentlemanly ease that’s confident without being menacing. He provides the urgency this kind of music needs, but he does so without delivering wild yelps or creating a false sense of danger.
The freshness of George’s music comes from more than just the deepness of his voice, though. It comes from the sweet, swinging lilt he employs on “Dixie Doll” and “Hillbilly Train,” from the inventive twang of guitarist George Bradfute’s muscular playing, and from the just-right rhythm section. Onstage and on his recent Rockin’ Country and Western Roundup, Vol. 1, George also benefits from the tasteful counterpoints of Fats Kaplin, who alternates between fiddle and steel guitar. Kaplin’s that rare master instrumentalist who doesn’t need to show off his ability, preferring instead to add spice so that it blends in to the musical mix.
Perhaps the main reason George comes across so authentically, though, is because he gives the impression that he’d be playing this music even if it were out of fashion. In this way, he has more in commmon with legendary rockabilly pioneers like Sleepy LaBeef and Sonny Burgess than he does with many younger acolytes. George not only understands the sexual heat and stylish cool of this music; he also understands that it was created by hardworking men who were looking for a way to express their pride and independence.
These themes run throughout the lyrics of this truck-driving member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local No. 480. At their best, George’s songs are about what it’s like to be a man who carries himself with self-respect even when others look down at him. “To walk that straight and narrow path, you have to be so strong,” he sings in “Walk On, Son.”
Like the big, old American cars George prefers, the music he loves may belong to another era. But this musical vehicle feels natural to him, and he’s going to keep it on the road as long as he can keep it in tune.
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*Alexandra Grace, not Alexadra Grace