Hannah Aldridge – Gold Rush
Rootsy Music – 16 June 2017
As the daughter of veteran Muscle Shoals songwriter Walt Aldridge, whose material has provided massive hits for the likes of Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Reba McEnetire and Tim McGraw, you might expect Alabama’s Hannah Aldridge to follow in his stylistic footsteps. However, while southern rock and country influences are firmly in evidence, Gold Rush, her second album, is often much more of a Springsteen persuasion, an influence firmly underlined by the anthemic Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad with its ringing guitar chords, thundering drums and rousing title line chorus.
Working with bassist Sean Savacool, drummer Garret Dean, 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden on electric guitar and co-producer Jordan Dean behind the keyboard, and with herself on Telecaster, her songs, look back on her younger days and experiences of failed relationships, substance abuse and life in an unforgiving bible belt. They are veined with themes of self-destruction and emotional scars, but from which she emerges a survivor.
It opens with another punchy number, Aftermath, a sort of more southern country-shaded Stevie Nicks track, that kicks off with the lines “I was born in a crossfire, I was born with my hands around my neck, I did not come here to be fragile.” There’s certainly nothing fragile about any of this, the album heading directly into the brooding, soulful Dark Hearted Woman, a number that, Aldridge in growly mode, shares its prowling mood with I Put A Spell On You.
A particular standout on an album of wall to wall highlights is Burning Down Birmingham. With its choral harmonies and slide guitar, it marries a Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town feel with southern soul in its reflection. As she looks to put a broken romance behind her, she sings “four whiskeys into a pack of lucky strikes I take my heartache with a little bit of ice” building to the earworm chorus of “There’s an old flame burning down Birmingham tonight.”
She keeps things smouldering for the keyboards-backed slow burn Irony of Love, choral backing swelling on the yearning, bitter-tinged title line chorus, at times evoking thoughts of a Blackbirds mood Gretchen Peters. It’s back to the riffs though with No Heart Left Behind, a Stonesy-guitar intro leading into a driving Springsteenesque swagger and another catchy chorus. While there’s a hint of Petty meets Nicks to the urgent Living On Lonely, a survivor’s defiant testament as she declares “I don’t need another reason to hate myself, I don’t need another bad tattoo.”
Sandwiched in-between is another smouldering, soulful ballad, the five-and-a-half minute Living On Lonely, featuring a searing guitar solo and open and honestly nodding to her dark days of drug addiction in the line about being “strung out again. Nothing to hold me but a two lane on a cocaine binge.”
It’s two ballads that bring the album to close. First, comes the sultrily sung six-minute slow waltzing Southern gothic narrative Lace, Savacool’s bass providing the backbone to her sexually electric barfly’s confession of how “I like my whisky how I like my men. Right on the tip of my tongue”, Aldridge giving vent to her full vocal force as the songs builds to a climax.
It ends with the stunning title track, a delicate, largely acoustic number with aching slide, about how, drawn home for Christmas she returns to the ghosts of the past, raking up painful memories. The lines “We hold on to our heartache like a noose around our necks” and “All the years that seemed to disappear come back to claim their debt”, encapsulate the self-destructive motif in the desperate line “I don’t know if this is living or slow motion suicide.” Unquestionably one of the best Americana albums of the year, she’s struck the mother lode.
She’s on tour now in the UK. Visit her website for details: https://hannah-aldridge.myshopify.com