Monday, February 6, 2017

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Faster and Farther - CD Review

Faster and Farther is a collection filled with feelings of faith, love, and loss. When you listen to a song or an album by Darin and Brooke Aldridge, you know that you won't be bombarded with discord, that there's always hope, that life is temporary, but true love eternal. You know that you'll be transported by Brooke's singing along with Darin's close harmony and masterful musicianship, as well his voice. There also won't be any surprises. Darin & Brooke can be counted on for heartfelt vocals, fine singing and an uplifting message with particular appeal to people of faith. In Faster and Farther, they have brought together a group of fine songs along with some stellar guests to produce what will be seen as one of their finest efforts.

This studio album features Shadd Cobb on fiddle, Colin Willis on Dobro, Tyler Collins on Dobro and banjo, and Tim Surrett, of Balsam Range, on bass along with Barry Bales. Meanwhile, John Cowan plays electric bass on some songs as well as the band's touring fiddler contributing Carley Arrowood on one. Pat Flynn lends his guitar pyrotechnics on a couple of songs. The mixture of vocal and instrumental textures testifies to Darin's musical imagination, as each song becomes a fully rounded creation.

In Faster and Farther Darin and Brooke have brought together some of country and bluegrass music's finest contemporary song writers, such as Carl Jackson, Lisa Shafer, Jerry Salley, Dennis Duff, Janee Fleenor and Darrell Scott, to create magical environments. Performing guests like John Cowan, with whom they have been touring for the past eighteen months or so when he's on hiatus from The Doobie Brothers, fellow New Grass Revival veteran Pat Flynn, and country great Vince Gill all add vocal color to the duo's always fine singing.

“Kingdom Come” hits the opening hard with a Pat Flynn song reminiscent of New Grass Revival, its hard driving sound complimented by John Cowan's vocal harmony. The song has a driving beat with a gospel message. The power of the opening song will keep people listening and may become be the song that gets the most airplay.

Grammy winner Carl Jackson and Jimmy Rushing penned “Fit for a King,” a story song about a street corner evangelist who knows that “the rags I'm wearing will be fit for a King” suggesting the value of a person does not lie in how they look or their worldly circumstances, but the faith they bring to their lives. Drivers passing by may dismiss him as an unbalanced street person, but he willingly shares his faith with all, assured of his destination. Charli Robertson of Flatt Lonesome chimes in with some good harmony.

Carl Jackson's “Eugene and Diane is a love song about the inability to communicate. Social class separates rich girl Diane from itinerant musician Eugene, who was “just a rung below the ladder of what she thought mattered more,” so she never communicated her feelings for him nor he for her. People who never tell each other how they feel risk losing their chance to cross the gulf separating them to find what really matters. The evocative song reminds the listener to reach out when real feeling comes along, leading to “the story of a love that should have been.” Each of them lives a life of regret for not having spoken their love for each other, for having missed the crucial moment.

Highway of Heartache” is another Jackson/Rushing song focusing on loss and sadness. “It's a highway of heartaches, woe is me that I must go,” Brooke sings. The Dobro solo played by Colin Willis and Shad Cobb's fiddle blend perfectly with Vince Gill's guest slot singing vocal harmony to make the trio a perfect complement to Brooke's lead. The highway of life isn't always an easy road to travel, especially in the face of loss.

This River,” written by John Cowan and Donny Lowery, suggests the “river of life” which can change each person as life keeps flowing along to join the great ocean beyond. The currrent takes us where it will, in heart and soul. The soulful fiddle plays above Darin's lead with Brooke and John Cowan's restrained, but always helpful, harmony. “The healing waters, how to save my soul” is a feminine force flowing through life.

Someday Soon” by Ian Tyson presents a story song set in Colorado, a sixties folk song reminiscent of Vietnam era's search for meaning of life. Written in 1964 and recorded by Judy Collins, Moe Bandy, and Suzy Bogus, among others, this song touches lots of the right buttons. The simple rendition keeps the focus on Brooke's lovely, supple voice with strong, haunting fiddle support. Darrin's clean guitar solo echoes the tune without frills or over-elaboration.

The writing team of Lisa Shafer and Dennis Duff have written some of Darin and Brooke's most evocative tunes throughout the duo's career including “I Thought I'd Seen it All” and “Corn.” The writing duo is joined by fiddler/writer Jannee Fleenor on Faster and Farther to write “Mountains of Mississippi,” a worthy successor to these earlier songs. The irony of mountains in Mississippi, a state dominated by the flat as a pancake delta is unmistakeable. Brooke's voice captures the metaphorical mountains erected by love, where heartbreak, loneliness, and lost love bring Colorado's cold granite mountains to anywhere. Vince Gill, a longtime model and friend of Darin's, contributes a harmony turn adding depth to the trio.

“Lila” showcases both John Cowan's remarkable tenor voice, as strong as ever after over forty years of performing, and Brooke's ability to blend with other voices to create melodic magic. Darin and John trade leads as the song examines loss that won't be filled. Pat Flynn wrote this one with Cowan, telling the story of “the love I have for you deep inside of me” lost between them but still burning.

“Baby, what started then hasn't stopped yet.” shows gratitude for the small tokens of love like “daisies in a mason jar” which mean so much, “The least little thing you do out of love,” transports the singer to a higher plain. “The Falling” takes place “faster and farther, which became the title of the album. “Still Falling” is another fine contribution from Shafer and Duff to the Aldridge catalog. The song does raise the question, for me, of why are strengthening feelings are referred to as “falling.”

Brooke's voice fills any song she takes on with conviction and honesty, as her voice simply can't be missed reaching out to touch the spirit. In the traditional gospel song “Sacred Lamb,” she does it again with passion and conviction. Carley Arrowood plays fiddle on this one with Dwayne Anderson on bass.

Written by John Cowan with master songwriter Darrell Scott, “Cumberland Plateau” becomes a metaphor calling for a return to basic values developed at home in the country. The call to a different life often demands we leave home for another life, but the call of home, the Cumberland Plateau in this song, keeps calling as our roots are always calling and always supporting us.

“Heaven Just Got Sweeter for You” written by Jerry Salley and Diane Wilkinson highlights the redemptive quality of loss, which becomes easier when losing someone to death is made less painful because the lost one was a believer and we'll be joined again in the end. “God's promise that death is never the end” makes personal loss bearable.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Faster and Farther is book-ended by two songs of faith, the bread and butter of the relationship and music of Darin and Brooke Aldridge. Buttressed by songs of love and loss, the rising mountains of shared experience, and the risk of not expressing ones true feelings, this new CD is a worthy successor to their earlier work. In it, their emerging musical partnership with John Cowan shows its rich potential for more of the same as well as continued musical development. Darin's vocals are stronger than ever, while his virtuosity on both guitar and mandolin continue to amaze, while never becoming the showpiece lesser artists often demand. In the end though, Brooke's voice demands recognition as one of the clearest, most powerful, and evocative in all bluegrass...and further.

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