Sunday, 23 July 2017

Hannah Aldridge - a musical talent undiscovered (for how much longer?)

What’s the connection between Muscle Shoals, near Birmingham, Alabama, USA and Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK? A minor clue: go via Nashville. Yes, it’s music, and to be more specific, it’s a show in a small local venue last week. Few UK music fans may have heard of 29 year old Alabama singer songwriter Hannah Aldridge, but if Americana – a fusion of folk, country, blues, rock & roll – ever gains wider attention in the UK, she would surely be in the forefront.

Let’s start in Alsager, near Stoke on Trent. We’d found out that Don Gallardo and his band, who happened to be playing at Nashville’s celebrated Bluebird CafĂ© when we made it there 8 weeks ago, were on a UK tour. Their opening act, playing a half hour slot with no back up other than her own acoustic guitar, was Hannah Aldridge. There was something captivating about her, reinforced by her CDs Razor Wire and Gold Rush which she gratefully signed for us after her performance. When we found out that she would be at the Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath a week later, this time as a headliner, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

What about Hannah Aldridge’s music? OK, think of any Fleetwood Mac song led by Stevie Nicks. Think of songs from the Nashville TV series performed by Juliette or Scarlett – that’s high praise, by the way, the songs combine perfectly with the musical politics and family tribulations to make prime time TV. Add in her own main influence, Jackson Browne, and a complicated life story. That’s a lot to go on. But after listening to the two CDs in full, both with full conventional band support, how would she get on as a headliner when it would once again be only her and a guitar?

We needn’t have worried. The Kitchen Garden had certain similarities with the Bluebird – definitely a listening room rather than a bar with a stage. It was one of those up close and personal performances. And once again it was captivating. As she said in an interview, “I think people really enjoy that I treat my audience like we are in my living room.”

Best songs? OK, let’s take two from each album. From ‘Gold Rush’, there’s ‘I Know Too Much’, and ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, the latter definitely not a commemoration of the Handsworth riots or anything related to civil rights, but an old flame song enabling the audience to join in and chant the chorus. And from ‘Razor Wire’, let’s go for ‘Parchman’, where Hannah stood in the shoes of a woman on death row who had killed her abusive husband, and ‘Howlin’ Bones’, where she bravely abandoned her microphone and went entirely unplugged to close the show – and it worked.

If she does make it back over to the UK with her band, as she promised she would, she’ll hopefully be winning a whole new audience. And I’ll finish with a message to Simon Cowell. If you’re looking to find what could be the next well received trend for UK live music, you could do a lot worse than try Americana – and give Hannah Aldridge a slot on one of the X Factor’s live shows.

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