Once upon a time, Allison Moorer was a country artist who sang for a major record label. It might be easy then, to see her switch to Sugar Hill as a back-to-the-basics move, a reconnection with her country roots. Moorer, however, isn’t that predictable, and The Duel — while many things — isn’t country. In fact, the opening cut — “I Ain’t Giving Up on You” — sounds a lot like classic rock and most of the album follows this course. This is interesting, in that Moorer’s a strong writer, and it would’ve been easy to fall back on a tasteful country-folk production and become a fairly typical singer/songwriter. Instead, Moorer’s plucky vocals, along with Adam Landry’s electric guitar work and R.S. Field’s steady backbeat, turn a song like “Melancholy Polly” into an easy-rolling romp. Another factor that makes the songs on The Duel so effective is that Moorer, besides being good at penning lyrics, is smart enough to write catchy hooks. This means that the listener doesn’t have to be into the lyrics of “When Will You Ever Come Down” to enjoy the intriguing chord progressions. Even when country elements enter the picture, like John Davis’ steel on “One on the House,” one is reminded of Neil Young’s Harvest more than country. Moorer seems to have found a comfortable spot to express her artistic whim at her new label, and The Duel is the happy result.
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