Katie Moore,
Only Thing Worse
(Borealis, 2007)

Katie Moore, a Montreal resident who performs in Canada and Europe, sings with a grace and depth that you may miss -- I certainly did -- the first time you spin Only Thing Worse. Her songs, both the originals and those that aren't, tend to move slowly and to stress the downbeat. After all, the very first line of the very first song is, "It's not easy getting older," and hardly anything that follows gets much cheerier. Most of the world of this CD feels like thinly populated nightclub and deserted early-morning city street -- music in a noirish landscape.

It's romantic angst so desolate as to strike like a punch to the heart. "Rush Enough" will take your breath away with its utterly unblinking, disconcertingly erotic dissection of heartbreak, jealousy and betrayal. This is the kind of song that Kris Kristofferson and the late Mickey Newbury could write in their time, except that maybe it's even better.

Moore certainly knows her Kristofferson, demonstrating as much with a skeletal, chill-boned reading of "Sunday Morning Coming Down." The other cover is Paul Siebel's great, if undeservedly less known "Any Day Woman." In 1970 and '71, Siebel cut two critically acclaimed albums for Elektra, back in the day when the "New Dylan" came along about every six months. After approximately 20 mostly extraordinary songs, however, he stopped writing. (When last heard from, he was working in a bakery or, in another account, inspecting parks for a county in Maryland.) Moore makes the song her own, approaching it as a chanteuse, not -- as Siebel did in his more extroverted arrangement -- as a honkytonk belter. I hope this isn't the last time she retrieves something from Siebel's magnificent, if abbreviated, catalogue. How about "Long Afternoons" next time? Or -- if she's willing to venture into socio-political territory-- "My Town"?

There is, however, nothing lesser in Moore's own material, which is always as emotionally true, complex, intelligent and grown-up as her songwriting heroes' was and is. Singing in a smoky, understated alto before a small folk-rock band with occasional jazz and pop accents, she conveys both emotional fragility and, paradoxically, fierce courage. The message is, if life hurts, it yet should be lived in full. In the title song she sings, "The only thing worse than having your heart broke / Is having no one willing to break it." Moore is willing to break your heart, beautifully.

review by
Jerome Clark

21 June 2008

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