Allison Moorer

After four major-label albums and a growing reputation among Nashville's inner cartel, Allison Moorer was ready to arrive. She possessed the aptitude and the attitude that usually means stardom is merely a hit record away. She apparently wasn't happy, however, with the star-making machinery, especially after witnessing their impact on her sister, singer Shelby Lynne, so she opted to record for an indie, Sugar Hill Records. The result is the aptly titled The Duel, an edgy, rough-hewn collection of narratives obsessed with winners and losers, faith and desperation, and questions and conflicts. Eschewing the usual studio sheen, it's dark, soulful, uncompromising, and raw around the edges, a set that's gripping at every turn.

The opening track, "I Ain't Giving Up on You," sets the tone for a series of gritty, deliberate rockers that recall Neil Young and Crazy Horse, courtesy of a back-up band that includes altrock veterans Adam Landry of the Sways and John Davis from Superdrag. The second half of the album finds Moorer mellowing a bit, as the melodies become more expansive and the music is pared down to her acoustic guitar and keyboards courtesy of Davis. Even in those subdued settings, the passion never ebbs because her conviction comes through.

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Lee Zimmerman