When it comes to being the wild child in the family, Allison Moorer has a few all-nighters to go before she can match the hell-raisin' rep of her sister Shelby Lynne. Still, the Alabama native with the rich, throaty alto was definitely showing her devilish side Sunday, as she shocked and seduced a modest-size Birchmere crowd by turning many of her soul-kissed country ballads into sex-charged honky-tonkers.
Dressed in bluejeans, black jacket and a way-low-cut black tank -- and looking very much like a down-home Nicole Kidman -- the blue-eyed redhead commenced the 90-minute set in her usual sad, somber fashion: alone in the spotlight, with an acoustic guitar and those octave-spanning pipes.
The opening dirge, "Dying Breed" -- with its chilly chorus of "No one grows old in this household" -- hinted at her harrowing upbringing. (When Allison and Shelby were in their mid-teens, they watched their alcoholic father shoot their mother to death, then kill himself.) Moorer followed that mesmerizing crime report with "A Soft Place to Fall," a swoony, slow-dance weeper -- and the only good thing to come from the Robert Redford turkey "The Horse Whisperer."
Then four shaggy young men better suited for a Limp Bizkit cover band slouched onstage, and the somber music hall became more like a sleazy roadside juke joint. The shift in tone was jarring at first -- Moorer's voice is a nuanced treasure, while her band is really loud, dude -- but an amiable groove was ultimately achieved, as the gang gave extra grease to the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia," then unloaded most of Moorer's exceptional new disc, "The Duel."
Although she has yet to gloss it up to the extremes of Nashville cover girls Shania Twain and Faith Hill, Moorer is certainly getting poppier. "I Ain't Giving Up on You" and "Melancholy Polly" sounded like Sheryl Crow at her catchiest and countriest. Equally crowd-pleasing was an encore cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," given a swampy, slinky treatment. And the singalong show closer "Going Down" reached such a gloriously head-banging crescendo that several folks plugged their ears as they stomped their feet.
With her long locks tousled, Moorer left the stage with a sly grin and an exaggerated swing of her hips -- the goody-goody sister obviously having a ball being bad for a change.