By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
Nowadays, there are so many doggone glorious female tunesmiths straddling the line between twang and rock/pop/folk/blues/soul that it must qualify as a gender-specific Golden Age for the elusive genre of "alt-country." Beyond the pioneering (and still very relevant) Emmylou Harris, you've got -- in no particular order -- Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gillian Welch, Kelly Willis, Kasey Chambers, Alison Krauss, Caitlin Cary, Natalie Maines, Tift Merritt, Patty Griffin, Lori McKenna, Shelby Lynne and her sister, Allison Moorer -- to name a few.
Of this group, Moorer stands the worst chance of achieving mass recognition. She had her window: In 1998, Moorer received an Oscar nomination for "A Soft Place to Fall" from The Horse Whisperer soundtrack. But in Nashville, trains get derailed. That her most recent release, The Duel, was pressed by the indie Sugar Hill Records is testament to how far Moorer has willingly fallen from MCA Nashville and its hit-making tree.
Moorer's folks perished in a murder-suicide carried out by her father when Moorer was growing up in Alabama, so her soul ain't so sunny to begin with. Which brings us to Being There.
A 1979 adaptation of a satirical Jerzy Kosinski novel that was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, Being There is Moorer's favorite movie. Starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, Being There follows a mentally challenged gardener named Chance whose only knowledge of the world consists of what he's seen on television. Once his employer dies, Chance is thrust into the mean streets of Washington, D.C.
Conversing almost exclusively in simple platitudes involving his lone field of expertise (gardening), Chance -- who erroneously becomes known as "Chauncey Gardener" -- quickly ascends in public stature to that of economic genius and then would-be presidential candidate. Moorer recently spent a few minutes discussing the impact of '70s cinema -- a Golden Age in its own right -- on her craft.
B-Sides: Why isBeing There your favorite movie ever?
Allison Moorer: Being There makes me feel warm but a little unsettled. That film is so multi-layered. It really reminds me of the music business. You can make anybody believe anything you want them to believe. When's somebody going to wake up and realize the emperor is naked?
While Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is best known as the theme from2001: A Space Odyssey, it is brilliantly employed here in conjunction with Chauncey's being cast forth into the world. Do you feel like modern cinema has lost its ability to properly integrate soundtrack and script?
I think the use of film with music is the most powerful medium there is. It can just blow you over, absolutely. What I see a lot is somebody using a certain song for a cheap shot. There can be moments when things are more subtle, but sometimes they hit you over the head with it, and it becomes a lowest-common-denominator kind of thing.
The movie's final shot shows Chauncey walking across a lake as his friend Ben is buried. Is there a quasi-spiritual message at play here or what?
I think the whole film has a spiritual message. I think Chauncey, through the whole film, is just being himself, which is a pretty spiritual concept if you think about it. The last scene, I'm not really sure what that's all about, but it made perfect sense to me.
Do you have to go to dark places personally and emotionally to achieve that sort of shading in your own work?
I just started writing for my first record, which I'm going to do alone for the first time. Yesterday, I was on the bus writing, and I totally exhausted myself. I took myself to a place I don't go very often, and it totally shook me. So the answer is yes. -- Mike Seely
Back in the day when Britney Spears was still unwed jailbait and Carson Daly was a TRL figurehead, the Backstreet Boys were the toast of the teenpop world. After the tinny, Eurotrashy pop of "We've Got It Goin' On" made them stars overseas in 1995, the Orlando-based quintet -- baby-faced Nick Carter, altar-boy-cherubic Brian Littrell, nondescript Howie Dorough, brooding old dude Kevin Richardson and bad-boy-with-even-worse-facial-hair A.J. McLean -- reigned over the late-'90s American charts with hits like "I Want It That Way" and "I'll Never Break Your Heart."
Five years after their last studio album, the Boys are on a small club tour in an attempt to recapture the pre-fab magic of those days. Oddly enough, however, the return of the band brings to mind another high-profile comeback kid in recent months: the godfather of alt-rock misery, Morrissey. Sound implausible that the two are linked? Think again.
First, each artist took great pains to stay out of the spotlight for a significant amount of time, at least recording-wise. The perpetually mopey Brit took a seven-year recording hiatus and emerged triumphantly last year with You Are the Quarry, although the interim found him touring sporadically and losing a lawsuit filed by former Smiths bandmates Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. BSB, on the other hand, spent the last five studio-free years since 2000's Black and Blue unleashing a greatest-hits CD -- and chilling in rehab (McLean) or driving while intoxicated (Carter).