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.

The Goat Roper Band. Tall Grass. Old Pup Records

gr-tall-grass-album-cover-front-250x250Tall Grass, the third album from Welsh “Cosmic Country Blues” trio, The Goat Ropers, finds the band in fine form with a swell collection of songs which allow their fairly unique line up of two guitars and a double bass to shine. Singer Sam Roberts’ voice can take some time to bed in but it actually fits the loose limbed and occasionally ramshackled approach the band take as they root around various varieties of roots music. At times they can be quite forceful, driving a song along with a powerful punch. Elsewhere, they can wander endearingly through an eccentric melody like a band of hippies in search of the lost chord.

Produced by Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers and with the trio – Roberts along with brothers Jim and Tom Davies on guitar and double bass respectively – augmented on a couple of numbers by organ, pedal steel and banjo, the album kicks off with a bang. Unwrap My Bones is a fine example of a parched desert number, not too dissimilar from the early days of Calexico. Roberts is finely deadpan as he sings over a perfectly assembled arrangement of strummed guitars, lonesome harmonica, swelling organ and sweet pedal steel. It’s a great start and they remain in the badlands with their fine mix of Tex-Mex border romance and doo-wop on Desert Flower before unwrapping the dizzying layers of Main Street which flits between a Beatles’ like melody and some shit kicking southern rock with snaking guitars funnelling away.

When the double bass starts to thump away at the beginning of High Heel Blues you know you’re in for a ride as the band whizz through a hi-octane number verging on rockabilly but it’s the only song here where they really let their hair down. Elsewhere, they delve into the country blues aspect of their self styled description. Keep On is one of those songs which just drifts along with a honeysuckle perfume in its trail while I Can’t Fly, featuring some sly guitar lines from Jim Davies, starts off with a laid back nonchalance before a degree of anxiety creeps in. Anyway Anyhow snaps and snarls with a good old fashioned jug band feel (along with a sniff of a neurotic Lovin’ Spoonful) and that old time swing continues in the sing along,  Ask For Alice,  which sounds tailor made for audience participation in a live setting. And just as they opened the album with a belter, they close with one, albeit in a totally different idiom. Don’t Mind The Rain is a meandering number which is spiked with atmospheric guitar notes over an organ backdrop with the harmonies soaked in a psychedelic haze. It sounds a little bit as if The Pretty Things had recorded SF Sorrow on psilocybin in an Arizona desert. Odd but weirdly compelling.

Good news is that The Goat Roper Band are currently touring and they are in Scotland this week playing shows with Hannah Aldridge in Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdour. All dates here.