Thursday, September 22, 2011

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - So Much In Between - CD Review

Darin and Brooke Aldridge's third album confirms the establishment of a characteristic Darin & Brooke sound and sensibility combining the love affair of two young and attractive individuals with their Christian commitment and witness. Brooke Aldridge's powerful, clear voice dominates the duo's singing, while Darin's light tenor voice, reminiscent of Vince Gill's, contributes supporting harmonies serving to complement his partner. “So Much In Between” is their second CD produced by Jerry Salley, whose stamp is all over the album, including four songs where he is credited as co-writer. Salley has been instrumental in helping Darin & Brooke to realize the vision they've developed of how they wish to present themselves. Eschewing bluegrass's too typical murder and cheatin' songs, the duo have chosen to keep their message positive, filled with hope and faith. The present CD extends and confirms their approach while providing Brooke with a couple of opportunities to stake out new territory. 
Darin & Brooke Aldridge

In a step somewhat unusual for studio albums these days, “So Much In Between” features the touring band in all tracks. The only guest musician is Rob Ickes on Dobro, while Tom T. Hall and Jerry Salley make brief vocal appearances. Hall, as usual, is completely recognizable in his half sung/half spoken stint in his and Miss Dixie's song “Our Little World.” Meanwhile, Chris Bryant on banjo shines on the more rousing songs while contributing his characteristicly tasteful backup. Rachel Johnson Boyd (she's getting married in a few weeks, and the liner notes reflect this.) has made a significant addition to the band with both her fiddle work and her vocal harmonies, blending in above Brooke's voice, helping to create the unusual trio of two female voices with one male. This works well, helping to create the signature Aldridge sound that allows listeners to know immediately who's song is being spun. Dwayne Anderson, still a student at East Tennessee State University in a dual bluegrass and computer science major, on bass brings a supple variability to his melodic bass play that elevates the voice of the bass in ways not always heard in bluegrass music. 

Rachel Johnson Boyd
Don Stover's “Things In Life” is a particularly effective, hard driving song. Not knowing much about Stover, I watched him singing this song on You Tube accompanying himself with a clawhammer style on the banjo. In the Aldridge version, Chris Bryant kicks off the song to help create a strongly driving song out of which Brooke's voice soars, a new and vital re-creation of this song making it into a more interesting and engaging piece than Stover's rendering. One of the few Darin & Brooke songs featuring a lost love, in this case lost to death, which leads the singer to question why loved ones are taken away, yet hope rises from this song as faith in the eventual reunion of the lovers reigns. 

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Things in Life - Video

Lisa Shaffer has contributed three lively songs to the current CD, adding to the ones chosen for Darin and Brooke's previous self-titled album. Her writing bears a strong tinge of country, which fits well with the country duo sound always on the edge of this couple's bluegrass work. By appropriately dulling the edges separating country music from bluegrass, Darin and Brooke do justice to the wide appeal of their work. Perhaps music lovers would find themselves better served by liking what they like rather than seeking to categorize music before the appreciate it. In “We're in This Love Together,” Shaffer puts the couple on the same porch they enjoyed in the fine song “Corn.” It'll be fun to watch Darin and Brooke age together in their musical journey.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Wildflower - Video

Darin Aldridge does yeoman duty in this CD, playing both mandolin and guitar parts, singing lead on two songs and harmony throughout. Having chosen to sublimate his mandolin mastery in their performances to contribute high level rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, the mix in this recording allows his vocal shadings to come through loud and clear, to good advantage. As a soloist on “Every Scar” and “Jesus Walk Beside Me” he shows strong emotional content and good range. “Every Scar” (Salley/Boe/Black) is particularly interesting. Beginning as what appears to be a rather typical reminiscence of how a young person earned the scars on his skin with every scar having “a story to tell,” the song transitions to a faith song alluding to the scars on Jesus from the crucifixion and their relationship to the personal scars we all bear. 

Chris Bryant

The final song on the CD  has become a fan favorite on the festival trail. Patsy Montana's song “I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart,” which has been covered by everyone from Leann Rhimes to Nickel Creek, allows Brooke to show that she can yodel with the best of them. Her performance on this crowd pleaser helps show her vocal versatility, enthusiasm, and power. It's a great deal of fun, and Brooke Aldridge clearly enjoys being a part of it.

Dwayne Anderson

Several months ago I posted an essay on developing evaluative criteria for a Awards. I've been applying the same criteria to CD's, since I wanted to be sure I was bringing more than merely my gut reaction to my critical writing. I suggested that an excellent CD should have a distinctive, recognizable sound, have plenty of original material, and include few very carefully chosen covers. It should, insofar as possible, be recorded by the same band you might expect to see touring at a festival. On all counts, Darin and Brooke Aldridge's new CD “So Much In Between” meets or exceeds these criteria and stands as a significant addition to their body of work. Darin & Brooke Aldridge have been nominated as IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year and are strong contenders.

Darin Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge