Allison Moorer has become so identified with the outsider country scene and the singer-songwriter militancy of hubby Steve Earle that one tends to forget her flirtation with mega-stardom in the '90s. But MCA Nashville gave the Alabama native (and sister to country-soul goddess Shelby Lynne) two strikes — the tentative debut Alabama Song and the sublime The Hardest Part — before calling her out and dropping her from the roster. Since then she's stuck to her songwriting guns, even when they fired commercial blanks. But 2008's Songbird is her best effort in years, mostly because Che Earle stays out of the way (he doesn't even get a cut) and because her song selection — including tunes by Julie Miller, Gillian Welch, Nina Simone and Jessi Colter — is unalloyed, solid gold. Her full, open alto is gold, too, only hot and molten.
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