When Hannah Aldridge played at the Lexington in London last year it was to perform a show that was in the style of the Grand Ole Opry, with a selection of her favourite musical friends encouraged to perform along with her. The Lexington was also chosen as the venue to record a live album on that tour, and tonight was the official London launch of last July’s recording, entitled ‘Live in Black and White.’
One of the acts who participated on that special evening last year were back tonight as both Aldridge’s opening guest act and as her supporting musicians, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band. They had their own album to promote, ‘Tall Grass’, produced by Romeo Stodart of the Magic Numbers, who came along to lend his support. They demonstrated what a couple of acoustic guitars and a double bass can achieve, allied to some high level playing, enthusiasm, and humour. Highlights included the deeply affecting ‘Bright Lights and Deadbeats’, the uptempo ‘High Heel Blues’ and the infectious sounding ‘Ask for Alice.’
Clearly there were some last minute difficulties in the pressing of the ‘Live in Black and White’ CD which led to frantic attempts to ensure there were sufficient numbers of blemish-free copies available in time for this show. Aldridge somewhat laughingly puts this experience down to one of the disasters she’s usually plagued with on her tours. She also claimed to be suffering with her vocals during the evening, although this was barely noticeable throughout her set.
First in a number of excoriating retorts to ex-lovers, Aldridge launched into a spirited, solo acoustic rendition of ‘Aftermath’, before there were several goosebump-inducing moments courtesy of the song ‘Black and White’. The latter was inspired by a black and white photo of her, then, five year old son which served as motivation to dedicate a song to him. However, writer’s block on the third verse led her to ask her son, Jackson, what was important to him and the simplicity of his answer – the super hero shoe box located beneath his bed – and her desire to safeguard him from the cares and concerns of adulthood, led Aldridge to immortalise that moment in the lyrics of this very special song.
‘Rails to Ride’, her train song, was the first number with Aldridge joined by the Goat Roper boys – a rocking and rolling number about the itinerant lifestyle of a travelling musician, it featured some frenzied fretboard freneticism from Jim Davies on guitar. ‘Old Ghost,’ was more in the way of cheating boyfriend material and another timely riposte to a former lover. Although there’s a lot in the way of different influences on Aldridge’s songwriting, the lovelorn is very much at the heart of her sad country co-write with Randall Clay, ‘Lie Like You Love Me’, and its memorable line “I miss you like morphine straight to my veins”, but her anthem for the lonely, ‘No Heart Left Behind’, with its stabbing guitar riffs, is a statement of defiance. It’s also a song that on record has its roots firmly in the rock genre, so perhaps what followed – a cover of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’ – shouldn’t entirely come as a surprise.
Aldridge has always been very open about her love of rock music and the diversity of her songwriting influences. Neither should the self-destructive mood that sits at the heart of the ‘Gold Rush’ album be overlooked. It’s clear from the intro to this song that she considers Chris Cornell of Audioslave to have been one of the best southern rock singers going, so it’s hard to talk of him in the past tense. But Aldridge has always been open about the fight she’s had with her own personal demons and on this number – which demonstrated the full range of her vocal range and power – she did great justice to someone whose own battle with mental health proved beyond his ability to prevail. And by the way, how good would it be to hear her attempt a cover of the wonderful ‘I Am the Highway’ by Audioslave as well. One for the next tour perhaps?
Proving that she can also draw on the well spring of the American south’s darker historical past for her material, Aldridge put herself in the shoes of Andrew Jackson’s slave mistress at the Forks of Cypress plantation in northern Alabama. She perished in an electrical storm and was buried some way away near a ghost bridge which proves the inspiration for the tragic tale of ‘Born to be Broken.’ Meanwhile, ‘Lonesome’ sees Aldridge draw on her own personal history and that of her parents’ divorce, written at at a time when she was in college and didn’t even intend to become a songwriter.
After an audience favourite, ‘Howlin’ Bones’, we got a number, ‘Some Ghosts Don’t Make a Sound’, that never made it onto either of her two albums, because – according to Aldridge – “I felt like I had too much murder (material) already.” A co-write with Randall Clay and Jason Charles Miller, the song was proof that some people get away with literal murder, as well as evidence that Aldridge still has plenty of strong unrecorded material left in her locker. An audience shout out request for the Civil War tale, ‘Yankee Bank’ which her father co-wrote shows that storytelling and quality songwriting runs through the Aldridge family veins while ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, might be a song about her least favourite place, but always provides an opportunity for her audience to join in as a back line choir in what is a celebratory singalong chorus.
The encores began with ‘Parchman’ which by way of introduction was a dedication to her supporters who keep her out on the road when her enthusiasm and commitment start to wane, while the song itself shows a great degree of understanding about how a female victim of domestic violence can be driven to murder. The Gillian Welch song, ‘Red Clay Halo’ saw the Goat Roper Rodeo Band return to the stage and was a great showcase for their hot picking, bluegrass style of playing, and a rousing way to finish off the night.
‘Live In Black and White’ has as its core message on the sleeve notes the same key message as the song that inspired the album title. It extols simple virtues such as friendship, support for one another, and about keeping on keeping on – even when the travails of life on the road can seem too much of a burden. It’s also about an undying love of music without boundaries and the power that music can exercise. Once again, Hannah Aldridge showed herself tonight more than capable of casting her spell over London.
With special thanks to David Handley for use of his photos.