Hannah Aldridge. Live In Black And White

hannahaldridgeAs she embarks on another tour of the UK and Ireland,  it’s time to get acquainted with Hannah Aldridge’s latest album, released at the tail end of April when she was last on these shores. Aldridge, who grew up in Muscle Shoals, has certainly been a hit with UK audiences over the past few years, her live shows given rave reviews, so it’s nice to have a live album to ponder on. However, Live In Black And White is not a straightforward run through of a live show, rather, it captures selections from her two albums, Razor Wire and Goldrush, recorded at two locations – Tangled String in Huntsville Alabama and The Lexington in London. The Lexington show was particularly memorable as Aldridge offered the punters that night a variety show peopled with several acts, all of them performing at least one song with her and several of these feature here.

The first thing to say is that this stripped down acoustic version of Aldridge really allows both her songs and herself to shine. Both Razorwire and Goldrush suffered somewhat from overly energetic rock arrangements but listening to the perfect renditions here of Lie Like You Love Me (featuring Walt Aldridge, her dad and a well known songwriter in his own right) and Goldrush, which has Robbie Cavanagh singing with her, and you will realise that her writing is on a par with the likes of Gretchen Peters and others of that ilk. They’re both dark songs, alluding to Aldridge’s troubled past and she’s at her best when she’s digging into darker or more emotional territory as on the moving Lonesome or the scathing blues of Howlin Bones. Still dark but casting beyond personal woes is the death row story of Parchman while Born To Be Broken was inspired by the life of Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress. Listening to this one is really reminded that Aldridge is a child of The South with all that entails, her voice deep and impassioned.

As for the guests, Danni Nicholls joins in on Lace, a lingering and lascivious number oozing with desire, while The Black Feathers are fine vocal foils on Save Yourself. But it’s The Goat Roper Band’s joyous freewheelin’ knockabout on Rails To Ride which is the highlight here. Mind you, the closing rendition of Aldridge’s best known song, Burning Down Birmingham, is excellent. Aldridge is in the habit of selecting audience members to join her on stage to sing the rousing chorus but here it’s a mass gathering of all The Lexington musicians who lift the song.

Live In Black And White allows Ms. Aldridge to strip away her studio trappings and deliver her songs in a raw fashion and it’s all the better for that. Highly recommended and a must buy album for anyone who has been captivated by her live shows or enjoyed the studio albums.

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Hannah Aldridge with The Goat Roper Band. Nice n Sleazy, Glasgow. 26th April 2019

This perfectly bundled mini package tour rolled into Glasgow with both acts having new albums to promote and they both did a swell job of selling them to the good sized audience who turned up on a miserable rainy night. Hannah Aldridge seems to have found favour with Glaswegians with several reminiscing before tonight’s show of an especially raucous gig a few years back while the front row was packed with a bunch who had seen her the previous night in Stirling and who fully intended to be at her next show in Edinburgh.

Aldridge’s new release is a live album recorded in London with a varied cast of musicians and one of the acts featured on the disc is The Goat Roper Band from Wales and it’s the Goat Roper’s who are both the support act and her backing band on this tour. Having met at a show in Liverpool some years back they’ve kept in touch and met up just before this tour for a rehearsal before hitting the road. It’s a fine example of one of Aldridge’s creeds, “The undying love of music without boundaries,” as this blend of Welsh raggle taggle and southern soulful Americana fit together perfectly.

The Goat Roper’s played the first set with several songs from their new album, Tall Grass, featured. A very hirsute trio with a 1970’s Ladbroke Grove look to them, they’re an energetic bunch, kinetic on stage with double bass player Tom Davies particularly intriguing as he caresses and dances around his instrument. His brother Jim, plays a mean acoustic guitar, wringing the notes out while Sam Roberts keeps the rhythm going on his acoustic guitar. Straddling R’n’B, rockabilly and country (with a particular bent for those old cosmic country days) the band were in great form with Desert Flowers, Ask For Alice and Whiskey Lullaby all performed, the latter allowing them to show off well their harmonies which surely draw from the well of The Everlys. Best of all was Don’t Mind The Rain, the closing song from Tall Grass, which meandered wonderfully with skeletal guitar and offbeat harmonies. A chap standing next to your reviewer said it was as if The Grateful Dead had stumbled into Dylan’s Basement Tapes sessions, and that just about describes it. They closed with a hi-octane rumble in the shape of High Heel Blues with Jim Davies almost ripping his guitar strings apart.

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After a short break, The Ropers’s were back on stage with Ms. Aldridge for her set. Her performance, stripped of the studio sheen of her albums, allowed her words more space to impress but there was no let up in the fury on several numbers. Explaining that although she is influenced by classic writers from the seventies she is a child of the nineties and it was the likes of Smashing Pumpkins who she grew up with, she sang a song from her favourite of that period, the late Chris Cornell. It was Audioslave’s Like A Stone and she imbued it with a fearsome power as it grew in intensity with Jim Davies’ guitar playing impressive. Her own songs didn’t lack intensity as she rubbished an ex boyfriend on Old Ghost and delved into history for Born To Be Broken, written after she read about Andrew Jackson’s slave mistress and her sad demise, the song soaked with southern sadness. Lie Like You Love Me, a co-write with the late Randall Clay was masterful as it hit the spot straight from its arresting opening line.

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The band left Aldridge on stage for a solo set which included a grand thrash through Howlin’ Bones, an excellent hard scrabble Razorwire and a song Aldridge wrote with her Muscle Shoals songwriter father, Yankee Bank, a good old-fashioned tale of civil war bitterness. The boys in the band were back up for the set closer, Burning Down Birmingham, a city Aldridge confesses to not being too keen on (that’s Birmingham, Alabama folks so breathe easy down south). As is her wont, Aldridge invited audience members on stage to sing along with her and with the volunteers in place they delivered a stripped down version which was much more affecting than the studio version. There was room for an encore which included a cracking version of Gillian Welsh’s Red Clay Halo before Aldridge said farewell by way of Don’t Be Afraid which opened like a lullaby before ascending into a thrashing crescendo of guitars. A great end to a grand evening.

Static Roots 2018

34016858_857835087737260_3737381984364658688_nRound about this time last year we spoke to a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, Dietmar Leibecke, from Germany, about his Static Roots festival which he had set up in 2016. Seeing as it seems we share the same pair of ears when it comes to music, Static Roots seemed to be the place to be mid July and this was confirmed when another good friend, Ken Beveridge, wrote a fine review of the weekend. Well it’s that time of year again and so we dialled up Dietmar to ask him what was on offer this time. Read on to see what he has in store for those attending in 2018.

It’s your third year of putting on Static Roots, is it gaining a foothold on the musical calendar over there?

Well it’s a bit early to say but we are getting some more publicity with invites to talk about the festival from some radio shows here in Germany and I’ve even spoken about it for a London based show when I was over there two weeks ago. Certainly when we offered up our early bird tickets they sold out almost immediatley and since then the sales have been building up. Funny thing is that a lot of them are going to people from outside Germany but I’m hoping that with the recent publicity we can get some more local folk to come along.

I know that you have been closely linked with Ireland’s Kilkenny Roots Festival so is it a bunch of Irish folk going over?

A lot of my friends from Kilkenny Roots will be there but they come from all over, Ireland, England and there’s a big Scottish contingent. Many of them have been there for the past two festivals and when they come it’s like a big family gathering but for everyone else they’ve really enjoyed the atmosphere. We have a great venue, an old factory which has been converted into a really nice venue with a beer garden outside selling great food and great beer so there’s plenty of opportunities to meet people and share the experience.

Sticking with the Kilkenny connection I believe you are going to be paying tribute to the late Willie Meighan.

Willie came to the first Static Roots before he became unwell. When I was thinking about setting up the festival I got a lot of advice from Willie, he was a great inspiration and really a mentor to me. We had a lot of discussions about the bands I wanted to put on and he had some great suggestions. There was a band who wanted to play but I wasn’t sure about how they would fit in even though I knew their name would sell a lot of tickets so I spoke to Willie and he said, “Stay true to what you feel is right”, so I didn’t book them in the end and instead stuck to the acts that I knew would go down really well. Willie was my role model and such a great influence, such a lovely, friendly, polite and funny character so we’ve decided to have a special slot in the festival dedicated to him. And really there was no one better to play that slot than Kilkenny’s Midnight Union Band, I think of them almost as Willie’s children as he supported them so much.

So who else is on the bill?

On the Friday we open with Hannah Aldridge who is just tremendous. She’s playing solo but she can really grab the stage on her own and then there’s the Steven Stanley band from Canada whose album was produced by Christopher Brown on Wolfe Island. The Midnight Union Band are on next and then to close the night we have Terra Lightfoot with her full band. I’ve only seen her solo before and I was really impressed but the videos of her with her band are brilliant so I’m really looking forward to that. And then on Saturday we are lucky to have Justin Osborne from Susto opening the show  before we head to Nashville with Anthony da Costa and Charlie Whitten and then into London with Donald Byron Wheatley. I really loved Donald’s album which sounded at times like Dylan in the sixties when he was playing with The Band, I’m really looking forward to that but I think that the last three bands on will just blow people’s mind’s away. We have Bennet Wilson Poole, your new supergroup of sorts who are just brilliant and then Prinz Grizzly who have really progressed since I first saw them at Kilkenny last year. And then I’m really excited that we have managed to get The Cordovas over to close the show.  I saw them last year almost by accident. I was in Groningen  watching Hurray for the Riffraff and when they finished I was going to another stage to see the Cactus Blossoms but I had to pass another stage and there were these five hippies on it just starting to play so I stayed to see what they sounded like and they were tremendous, guitars, pedal steel and three singers doing some great harmonies. In the end I watched the whole show, I don’t think any of them stopped to retune a guitar or anything, they just played and they were so much fun so I missed the Cactus Blossoms and I decided I needed to have them at Static Roots so I spoke to them after the show and we agreed to see if we could manage it. And then I met with Paul Spencer who organises the Maverick festival and we decided to see if we could coordinate some things which resulted in us having The Cordovas coming to play for us. Hopefully Paul and I can continue this and bring some more of the bigger acts over.

Aside from the music what else is going on?

As I said there’s a really nice beer garden outside and we have breaks so that people can go outside and grab a bite to eat.  Our friend Ken Beveridge who has written a book about all the gigs he’s gone to since 1966  will be doing a book signing at some point. I’ve also asked Anthony Griffin, a really good photographer, to come over but not to take shots of the bands but to concentrate on the audience. He did that for Kilkenny Roots and he can really capture that sense of wonder you get when you’re listening to some great music and really being part of a community. And really aside from the music we are arranging a sort of cultural outing for anyone who comes early on the Friday, the Static Ruhr Tour, a trip to some historical sites around Oberhausen along with some stop offs to experience a real currywurst stall and sample a few beers on the way.

Static Roots Festival happens on Friday and Saturday 13th and 14th July, all info here

And here’s a sample of Dietmar’s latest find, The Cordovas…

Hannah Aldridge. Gold Rush.

hannah_aldridge_gold_rushA child of Muscle Shoals (daddy is Walt Aldridge, one of the many talents to have worked out of the famed Alabama studios) Hannah Aldridge hit the ground running with her debut album Razor Wire back in 2014. While that album was a balls to the wall rock record Gold Rush is a slightly more varied adventure. Sure there’s the FM rock radio friendly Aftermath which opens the album with Aldridge challenging Jagger in the “born in a crossfire” stakes while the following Dark Hearted Woman comes across like Led Zeppelin covering an old Imelda May song, the listener bludgeoned into submission. No complaint here by the way as Aldridge strides these songs with authority, her voice blazing away, fiery and sultry. The remainder of the album however is where she really struts her stuff, her Southern roots on show, still fiery but the songs tempered, still rocking but not overwhelming and even at times coming across as tender and almost vulnerable. The mainstay lyrically throughout the album is Aldridge facing down demons from her past be it drug abuse, failed romance and the deep dark South.

Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad is a jangled guitar rocker that is up there with Mr. Petty while No Heart Left Behind is stuffed with lyrics that recall Patti Smith while the pummelling guitars and anthemic chorus are reminiscent of Springsteen with the song given a very fine outro as guitars fizz and burn amidst Aldridge’s wails and a powerful drum beat. I Know Too Much sizzles with some wicked slide guitar as Aldridge beats herself up singing, “It’s a dangerous place for a girl like me sifting through the ash and dust” as she contemplates a return to home. Home being Alabama and it’s here she sets one of the album highlights, Burning Down Birmingham, which roars with a vengeance somewhat like The Drive By Truckers, the South’s fables and dangers damned indeed. Living On Lonely, its shards of guitar and grandiloquent piano recalling classic Muscle Shoals sessions, is a stark portrait of being strung out as Aldridge attempts to exorcise her past.

The delicate acoustic finger picking on The Irony Of Love portends a shift in Aldridge’s campaign as she solemnly intones the opening lines of the song, again trying to make some sense of her past but here the band are muted and she is surrounded by a chorus of sympathetic voices. Lace is a chilling trip through a horrific tunnel of love as Aldridge dwells on bad decisions and abasement and rails mightily against them. It’s a rollercoaster of a song with plenty of sturm and drang fitting to be held in the same regard as some of Nick Cave’s efforts. Finally there’s the title song which again has Aldridge considering her decision to return home but its couched in acoustic guitar and swaddled slide guitar effects posting her as a songstress in the classic Americana sense, like Linda Ronstadt covering Little Feat.

Hannah Aldridge is currently touring the UK. All dates here with shows in Scotland including Southern Fried Perth.

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Hannah Aldridge/ Lilly Hiatt

 

Had to make some space to mention that Lilly Hiatt and Hannah Aldridge are swinging through Scotland this week with appearances in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.  Over the past 10 days they’ve been trekking around England to rave reviews, Three Chords and The Truth saying that the pair of them “play music of the soul in a way that captivates a tuned-in audience leaving a trail of awe, satisfaction and belief that straight from the gut music is full of intense appeal”. That straight from the gut comment apparently comes from Aldridge’s description of her music and anyone who has heard her album, Razor Wire will know that she can deliver tough and bluesy rock songs as well as laid back acoustic numbers.

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Aldridge is the daughter of famed country writer Walt Aldridge and her companion on this tour is another scion of a notable musician, in this case John Hiatt. This tour is Lilly Hiatt’s first time over here and she has a new album which was released at the beginning of this month. Like Aldridge Hiatt is no stranger to rock music although in her case on Royal Blue she tends more towards the indie side of things, one description of the album saying it’s  ” a glorious tumble of influences – surf rock, Smiths vibes, Laurel Canyon twang and jangle, Sonic Youth flatline and Britpop flourishes”. A fair enough description although it doesn’t really tell you what the album sounds like. It doesn’t mention for example the excellent pedal steel on Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick The Restaurant with its sly references to Lynyrd Skynyrd. From the low rumble of the opening song Far Away to the closing title song Hiatt does ramble across various genres but her fine voice and sharp writing steers her her firmly along American highways and byways. Off Track’s guitars buzz like a swarm of angry wasps, Too Bad veers towards Southern Gothic and Heart Attack is wrapped up in a new wave keyboard bubble.

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The Scottish shows are as follows. Check the links for tickets.

June 21 in Edinburgh  at The Voodoo Rooms

June 22 in Aberdeen  at The Blue Lamp

June 23 in Glasgow  at Woodend Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club