To say that the five years since the release of Allison Moorer's last album — 2010's Crows — have been eventful would be a bit of an understatement: the singer became a mother, then was faced with both the diagnosis of her son John Henry's autism and the collapse of her marriage to Steve Earle. Down to Believing, Moorer's eighth studio LP, is a powerful and at times cathartic expression of heartbreak and doubt shaped by adversity and the aftermath of a separation.
Recorded over two years in Nashville with Kenny Greenberg, who produced Moorer's first two full-lengths, Down to Believing trades its predecessor's softer folk arrangements for crisp layers of electric and acoustic guitars and a thoroughly contemporary radio-friendly country rock sound. Opener and bracing first single "Like It Used to Be" immediately sets the tone both musically and lyrically, its words a testament to Moorer's acceptance of change and a newly found independence coupled with uncertainty. The last embers of her marriage to Earle still burn on several songs, most notably the swaying title track ("I guess it comes down to staying or leaving / And whether we will or we won't"), the fierce, anthemic "Tear Me Apart" ("Sun's coming up blazing red / Setting on fire everything you said to me last night") and the deceptively breezy "I'm Doing Fine" ("If you want your old guitar, it's sitting on the porch").
Down to Believing can unquestionably be described as Moorer's breakup album, but this would sell short its intensely personal complexity: she also addresses her relationship with her sister, Shelby Lynne, with unquestioning love on the comforting "Blood" and confronts her son's autism with a mixture of helplessness, self-doubt and anger on the raging, swampy "Mama Let the Wolf In" ("He could've gone next door / To pillage and plunder/But he don't ask permission / Big bad motherfucker"). Even in the rare moments when the production comes dangerously close to generic modern country sheen, Moorer's voice remains a warm, unwavering instrument and the songs are never less than deeply affecting and emotionally resonant.
If Moorer pulls few punches in tackling personal turmoil, Down to Believing ends on a hopeful, liberating note: "I know that I'm gonna get it wrong / But it's alright," she sings on the closing "Gonna Get It Wrong." On an album where the Alabama singer hits nary a wrong note, this almost rings of false modesty. (Proper)