Fans of acclaimed roots music songwriters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer may not actually be aware that the two are sisters. They have lived very separate creative lives, amassing 24 albums between them, but never singing together on record until this collaboration, titled Not Dark Yet.
Given their credibility as songwriters, it's a mite surprising there is just one original track here, the co-written album closer, "Is It Too Much," but the pair show impeccable taste in their choice of material to cover, coming up with a surprisingly diverse list ranging from Merle Haggard, the Louvin Brothers and Townes Van Zandt to such left-field choices as Nick Cave, Kurt Cobain and the Killers. (No Steve Earle (Moorer's ex-husband) though.)
Each singer takes turns on lead vocals, with tight harmonies also featuring strongly. There is just enough difference in the two voices to keep things interesting, while producer Teddy Thompson corrals an A-list of session players, including Benmont Tench, Davey Faragher and Doug Pettibone to add empathetic instrumental accompaniment.
Some of the lyrics of the songs chosen lose something in the translation, and it jars a little to hear the sisters jointly sing lines like "I shaved my head" and "I'm so horny" on Nirvana classic "Lithium," but that's an exception. The gender switch on Nick Cave's gorgeous "Into My Arms" adds resonance to make it an album highlight.
The record's title, taken from a Bob Dylan tune they cover, is a tad misleading, as there is plenty of dark and intense material here — none moreso than "Is It Too Much," a song rooted in the tragedy of the murder/suicide that robbed the then-teenaged Lynne and Moorer of their parents. You can't get much darker than that, but the strength of the sibling bond shines through the murk: "Don't you know you ain't by yourself? / I'm right here to help you lay it down," they sing.
Kerry Doole (Thirty Tigers)