After long, successful separate careers in a variety of sub-genres of country and pop music, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer are finally hitting the road as a sister act. That’s right: you can’t tell by their names, but Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer are actually sisters, and they’ve recently come together to record and perform as a duo for the first time. The two will be rolling into the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on February 16 at 8 p.m. for a special night of duets.
The show is part of the sisters’ tour in support of their new record Not Dark Yet, a heartfelt collection featuring mainly covers of songs originally recorded by such artists as Merle Haggard, Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt and Nirvana. The title track, “Not Dark Yet,” is by that pioneer of country crossover Bob Dylan. According to Moorer, she and her sister chose the songs on the album to reflect their own relationship.
“We both started throwing things on the pile,” says Moorer. “We were looking for what made sense, what told a story.” Some of the songs on the record are songs the two grew up singing together—Merle Haggard’s classic “Silver Wings,” for example. “We grew up knowing that song, so that was a natural.”
While they grew up together near Mobile, Alabama—they fondly recall learning to harmonize with one another in the backseat of their mother’s car—a terrible tragedy led to the dissolution of their family, and as teenagers Lynne and Moorer largely went their separate ways. But since each is a talented singer and songwriter in her own right, both sisters wound up with solo careers in Nashville.
Lynne’s big breakthrough came with her crossover album, 1999’s I Am Shelby Lynne, which featured such radio favorites as “Leavin’” and “Gotta Get Back.” Later, Lynne recorded “Just a Little Lovin’,” a bestselling tribute to Dusty Springfield. Meanwhile, Moorer gravitated toward the alt-country side of Nashville, becoming a critical darling and landing numerous songs in prominent Hollywood films. Her song “A Soft Place to Fall,” featured in the film The Horse Whisperer, was nominated for an Academy Award, and Moorer performed it on the 1999 Oscars ceremony.
For Not Dark Yet, the sisters adopted a very direct approach. “There are no overdubs on the record,” says Moorer. “We sat facing each other and sang the songs live.” That “unplugged” vibe is carried into the arrangements, which feature beautiful low-key acoustic sounds, allowing the sisters’ matched voices to shine through.
At WHBPAC, Lynne and Moorer will be showcasing the record. “We do the record in its entirety, in sequence,” says Moorer. “But the arrangements have evolved on the road—we bring new things to the songs. Playing live is organic that way.” After showcasing the record, the pair follow with a set of favorites from their individual song catalogs.
Perhaps the most unusual cover on Not Dark Yet is the song “Lithium,” written by Kurt Cobain and originally recorded by Nirvana. You might think that its inclusion on the record and in concerts would surprise both fans of Lynne and Moorer and fans of Nirvana, but Moorer doesn’t buy it. “We’re not steeped in country music,” says Moorer. “We’re a lot broader than that.” The song “really grew and changed” in their arrangement, says Moorer—changed not the least by the addition of a harmony vocal line. “It becomes one voice,” says Moorer.
Of course, that’s one of the appeals of a sister act. The promise of multiple voices sounding as one—a blend that can really only be achieved when singers share the same genetics. And now, after years of creating and performing on their own, Lynne and Moorer have come together to treat their fans to that blend. And they’re bringing that blend to Westhampton Beach—catch it while you can.
Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer play WHBPAC on Friday, February 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $41–$71 at whbpac.org.