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Fortune Street, is Boston troubadour Alastair Moock's fifth record and second on CoraZong Records. A mix of nine original tunes and one traditional, the album is Moock's most intimate and mature to date. Two of the tracks were recorded solo; the other eight feature the stripped down roots ensemble of David Goodrich, Lou Ulrich, and Michael Piehl (all former members of the seminal Boston rock band Groovasaurus), joined by guests Kris Delmhorst, Michael Dinallo (The Mercy Brothers) and Sean Staples (The Resophonics).
Fortune Street was produced by David Goodrich (Chris Smither, Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault) and recorded in just five days at Signature Sounds Studios in rural Pomfret, Connecticut. Moock and the three main players worked 14-to-16-hour days during that time, living in a house adjacent to the studio. "It was the most fun I've had making an album," says Moock. "We woke up in the mornings and recorded in our pajamas, took turns cooking between takes, and drank and recorded 'til we burned out at night." Most of the recording was done live with a minimum of overdubs and very little cross-cutting between takes. That approach is one producer Goodrich regularly employs on his sessions. "Goody is basically a jazz guy," says Moock, "that's where he started, and that's how he comes at producing. He believes in capturing a performance rather than using the studio to manufacture songs." He adds: "That's exactly how I wanted to make this record." Tonally, Fortune Street ranges from earthy electric blues and 70s era soul to Appalachian ballad and lush folk-rock. Says Moock: "I've never been interested in making an album that's just twelve variations on the same tune; the most satisfying records for me are the ones that wander from the path." Fortune Street may roam a bit musically, but it seems to know exactly where it's headed. Several things hold it together: Moock's unique, rasping vocals; Goodrich's sophisticatedly melodic guitar lines; a drum-tight rhythm section; and, above all, the writing.
It's the writing that really sets this album apart from Moock's earlier recordings and from other albums of its ilk. Moock has already won many accolades for his writing in the past - his songs have won top honors in contests at the Falcon Ridge, Sisters, and Great Waters folk festivals, among others, and The Washington Post has called every song a gem. But Moock has never seemed as comfortable in his own skin as he does here. Nowhere is that more evident than on the album's two historical ballads, Cloudsplitter and Woody's Lament. Based on the Russell Banks novel of the same name, Cloudsplitter is a modal, mountain-type folk ballad (recorded live, solo, and in one take) about the controversial American abolitionist John Brown. Condensing Banks' 800-page book to eleven verses, Moock gives a hauntingly visceral account of Brown's violent pursuit of justice while also managing to turn his lens on contemporary America, the lingering effects of slavery, and the legacy of John Brown. That kind of lyrical dexterity brings to mind the subject of Moock's other historical ballad. Woody's Lament assumes the voice of America's original folk poet, speaking from beyond the grave to defend the tough choices he made in his life. The song imagines the internal conflict of a great man struggling to balance his competing obligations to family and history. Goodrich builds the track slowly, adding one instrument at a time and creating a momentum that mirrors the inevitability of Guthrie's path. In the end, it's an empathetic but not completely forgiving look at someone who Moock cites as his personal hero. "Woody Guthrie is the reason I'm a songwriter," says Moock. "I read [Guthrie's autobiography] Bound for Glory in high school and never turned back. But I've also always thought of him as a complex guy. I think he probably sacrificed an awful lot personally to become who he became publicly... This song's not just about Woody though," he adds, "I've always been fascinated by the way greatness demands sacrifice."
The opening track on Fortune Street is also the title track, and it marks some new musical territory for Moock. Written in an open E tuning, the song has some of the wide, sweeping feeling of a mid-career Dylan epic like Shelter From the Storm. But Goodrich's guitar and electric piano parts nod to a different sound from that era: that of Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper. The smooth, unhurried landscape of the production provides the right backdrop for Moock's densely packed lyrics examining states of togetherness and aloneness and a theme running throughout the album, the roles of chance and choice in our lives.