Hannah Aldridge has certainly put in the spade work where touring Europe in the recent past is concerned. She finished her current UK tour in London with a live album recording before heading for two nights in Sweden prior to returning home so she can focus on playing shows in the US and take a much needed step back from the music industry. Tonight she curated an event in which some of her favourite musical friends were encouraged to perform and record alongside her.
With just an acoustic guitar for support to begin, she opened with the bluesy and brooding ‘Howlin Bones’ – a not so subtle threat to an ex-lover – her expressive voice positively oozing with range and power. The emotional truth at the heart of the song ‘Razor Wire,’ with its slow waltz, paints a vivid portrait of a marriage turned sour and the night Aldridge ended up pawning her wedding ring. Both songs are delivered straight from the heart and it’s clear that she sees herself as a songwriter rather than a performer first and foremost. If anything, it’s the need to get her songs in front of a wider public that literally drives her to put in the thousands of miles on the road when out on tour. Religion and horror have often proved suitable songwriting inspiration, her devout Bible belt background fused with a southern sensibility – deployed to great effect as the soundtrack for horror movies and TV. But if there’s a darkness at the heart of her art, then what’s just as apparent is her willingness to lay bare her vulnerability – not only in song, but in the way she engages with her audience.
Her first guest tonight is Danni Nichols, who accompanies her on the sensuous sounding ‘Lace,’ Aldridge teasing us with the line “I like my whisky how I like my men / Right on the tip of my…(lengthy pause)… tongue.” Her musical associates get the opportunity to run through two numbers of their own, Danni Nichols, recently back from recording a third album in Nashville, showcasing ‘Losing It’ and ‘Ancient Embers,’ the latter a paean to the benefits of self-love.
Aldridge returns solo for a song dedicated to her son, Jackson, ‘Black and White.’ It’s a plangent and profoundly moving number about nostalgia. It’s also the one song Aldridge considers the most honest she’s ever written. ‘Old Ghost’ is the perfect riposte to a former lover, before she’s joined on stage by Robbie Cavanagh, who supposedly only met Hannah an hour or so before the performance. He provides luminous backing vocals to a moving rendition of ‘Gold Rush,’ another reflection on the dark ghosts of Hannah Aldridge’s past: “I don’t know if this is living or slow-motion suicide.”
One of the highlights of the the evening is when the musical duo Sian and Ray of the Black Feathers are invited on stage for ‘Save Yourself,’ the song Aldridge co-wrote with Jordan Allen Dean on Halloween a few years. The Black Feathers prove more than capable of holding their own in this company, and demonstrate terrific close harmony vocals on their own compositions, ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Three Stars’ – the latter a dedication to the state of Tennessee. Sian in particular has a memorably expressive voice, which is matched by a wicked sense of humour. On the verge of a lengthy US tour with her partner, she introduced Ray to the audience as her “current husband…”
Returning solo, Hannah Aldridge tore through the upbeat, Tom Pettyish sounding rocker, ‘You Ain’t Worth The Fight,’ before she slowed things down again to captivate the Lexington with ‘Parchment,’ which she introduced with the back story about how the victim of domestic violence on death row for killing her husband proved the motivation for the song.
Aside from murder and mayhem there was some great fun to be had with the Goat Roper Band supporting Hannah on ‘Rails To Ride,’ an entirely joyous performance, the energy exuded by this North Wales trio lifting audience spirits. Sam, in particular, is a veritable human jack-in-the-box bouncing up and down frenetically throughout their three songs, while Tom, with swooning affectation on ‘High Heel Blues’ twirls his double bass around as if it was his dance partner.
Into the home straight, Aldridge lowers the tempo with ‘Lonesome,’ a bittersweet reflection on her parents’ divorce and ‘Lie Like You Love Me,’ the song she composed with Randall Clay, its memorable opening line, “I miss you like morphine straight to my veins.”
Music and performance clearly proves cathartic for Aldridge. If ‘Razor Wire’ was her ‘Blood On The Tracks’ style relationship break up album, then ‘Goldrush‘ harkened back to an even earlier period when she was at her most self-destructive. She represents an interesting contradiction, the femme fatale part of her personality vying simultaneously with its more vulnerable alter ego. While there’s no denying that forging a singular identity she can make peace with is a challenge for Hannah Aldridge, it’s this inner tension that proves the creative fulcrum in which so much of her material as a songwriter is forged – and it’s her ability to reinvent herself that makes her such an interesting artist.
Perhaps inevitably, it’s a whole group ensemble sing-along for ‘Burning Down In Birmingham,’ that brings matters to a close, with audience participation in the chorus line positively encouraged. Over the course of two and a half hours, tonight proved to be a joyous celebration of Aldridge’s music and those of others she clearly holds in high esteem and with great affection. The stated aim of tonight’s performance was to make it ‘Grand Ole Opry’ style. For the uninitiated, The Opry features a dynamic line-up of new stars, superstars and legends of the country genre, each getting the chance to showcase their own style. Although true legends may have been a little unrepresented at the Lexington this evening, if there’s any real justice then Hannah Aldridge will eventually get catapulted to superstar status.
With sincere thanks to John Morgan for the photographs of the evening.