You can never go back, though Hannah Aldridge sometimes wants to. She has to. Stepping over the line and committing yourself to music can be a double-edged sword and she must feel the knife's edge no matter which way she turns— mother, musician and sometimes both. It is hard to balance. By definition.
You hear it in her songs, this dichotomy of life, but I will bet that if you sat down with her long enough, the dichotomy would slowly disappear. Life is what it is and hers is wrapped up in dreams and a six-year-old boy, Jackson, who is the real love of her life. "I have a picture of my little boy, Jackson, in black-and-white," she said once. "He's playing guitar and smiling. I wish I could go back to those black-and-white days, when a box of rocks beneath the bed was cause for joy."
You can never go back, though you can if you're lucky enough to be as talented as Aldridge. You can live and relive not only your life but the parts of life you by pure happenstance missed. You can wrap yourself up into what was and what is to be and what is now, but even what never will be and never has been. The magic is in the music and Aldridge weaves a spell with hers.
Genre-wise, her songs are just to the left of Nashville, or what they call Nashville these days—rock with a slight southern drawl. Music-wise, they are truly "Dark Americana" as Aldridge herself defines them—songs on the edge, in between, in purgatory. They are, as one song title suggests, Black and White. In high contrast. Back-alley, one yellow-tinged and uncovered light bulb late at night.
Aldridge has a bit of early Miranda Lambert in her, that touch of rebel Lambert lost when she adopted formula rather than writing from the soul. She harbors the ghost as do all of us who know that back-alley. She has the soul of the South and the rock of the North and a voice to meld the two together. And she writes to beat the devil. Nine original songs as good as anything I've heard come out of Nashville in the past number of years, one (Razor Wire) reprised unplugged at the end as a bonus track). One cover, a Jason Isbell song (Try), with Isbell's band backing her. It is outstanding.
One song really stands above the rest, in my ears. Howlin' Bones rides an open and brassy guitar and smooth organ overlap, giving Aldridge's edgy voice a push and it makes all the difference. In fact, the basic band structure throughout the album (guitar, bass, drums, organ) makes the difference, taking the sound just outside standard Nashville.
I'm surprised the major labels (or is it down to one these days) didn't hop all over this one. Maybe it's too edgy. Maybe the songs are not formula enough. Maybe they read the name first and listen later. Whatever the reason, they missed out here. This is first class.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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