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


  1. I take great exception to the statement about Don Stover's version of "Things In Life". Don is singing about his life in this great song. If this new version is "more interesting and engaging" is up to the individual listener. This new "more interesting and engaging" version can't be any more inspiring than Don's version. Don was one of the greatest 5-string banjo pickers that ever lived. His picking and singing was real. It wasn't something manipulated in a recording studio to be "perfect". He contributed so much to Bluegrass. I just don't like to hear him or his music downgraded to build someone else up.

    I'm not saying any of this to downgrade Darin and Brooke. I'm sure they are fine people and good musicians/singers.

  2. My first thought on reading the phrase "a more interesting and engaging piece than Stover's rendering" was not centered on the author's own admission that he knew little or nothing about Don Stover; after all, not everyone can be expected to be familiar with a giant of bluegrass history. What struck me was that the writer is a mature individual and yet still thinks so comparatively. Regardless of who gets compared, it's never a fair proposition. It's not fair to compare an artist at 30 and the same artist at 70, and it's likewise not fair to compare two separate artists in the way the above sentence does.

  3. In addition, as I listened to and watched the version by the great Don Stover, I was aware that he himself was ill and struggleing. Nevertheless, it's a critics job to listen and watch and make judgements. I like Darin and Brooke's version more, and said so, without, I hope, taking anything away from Stover's interesting and remarkable career.

  4. If comparisons are unavoidable, the version to compare to is not some video from near the end of Stover's life when he was bravely soldiering on, but his audio recording of his composition. Comparing the former to anything by young musicians in the prime of life is patently unfair and belittling. From the historical viewpoint, Stover's career is far more than "interesting and remarkable": it is a cornerstone of the music. This blog is likewise more than criticism; it (with its excellent photographs) will be a form of education for future generations. Considering that purpose, it would be mindful to say more about Don Stover than that his version of something wasn't as good as somebody else's and leave it at that.

  5. I agree with everything Sandy Rothman has said.

    Don Stover's playing with the Lilly Brothers, Bill Monroe and his own solo recordings was groundbreaking. His playing was every bit on the level with Earl Scruggs and Don Reno for originality. His playing on Bill Monroe's "Knee Deep In Bluegrass" LP should be studied by all bluegrass banjo players. Don was also a tremendous clawhammer player. His talents seemed endless.

    I enjoy your blog and especially enjoy the photography. I just don't get the mind set that the current generation of musicians has "improved" bluegrass. They have changed it (not always for the better) but not improved it. Seems like the current powers that be in Bluegrass are trying to change the music to appeal to the masses. When that happens in any kind of popular culture (Nascar is another example), the people who built the foundation are almost always left behind. We can't forget or disrespect where we come from. The music can grow but not so far that it isn't recognizable and Bluegrass becomes a generic term much as today's Nashville brand of Country music has become.

    As I said in my previous post, none of this is said to downgrade Darin or Brooke.

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