A Countdown To "Razor Wire"
In just ten days Hannah Aldridge's debut record, "Razor Wire" will be released. After getting a chance to listen to and digest the album, we here at The Music Room feel that it is simply too good to just write a normal review of. Since each song is wonderful in it's own way, we are going to feature a song a day leading up to the May 13, 2014 release date. If at any point in the next ten days you come to the realization that you have to have this record (and you do) you can order your copy here. It will also be available on iTunes on May 13th for digital download.
1. "You Ain't Worth the Fight" - We all probably know at least one couple that do nothing but fight. It never fails, every single time you see them, they are going at it about something. In this upbeat opener of "Razor Wire," Hannah Aldridge makes it clear that she is not willing to be involved in relationship drama like that. In what can basically be described as the ultimate kiss-off song, Aldridge tells the unfortunate guy that her time is too valuable and that she is out of here. Not only does this song send a strong message, it also showcases Aldridge's abilities as a song writer. There are several times throughout the song where Hannah uses her words to create strong metaphors to make her point. Her songwriting can only be described as sophisticated and powerful. The good news is, we're just getting started!
2. "Old Ghost" - There is undeniably something special about the music that comes out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Some even attribute the sound to something spiritual that rises out of the Alabama river mud. If that theory is true, then "Old Ghost" must be covered in that mud. The track opens with a cool guitar line from Andrew Sovine that leads right into a soulful vocal delivery from Aldridge. While the sound of the song is something supernatural in itself, the subject matter is not so hard to believe. Hannah tells me that she wrote "Old Ghost" about a guy that she dated briefly that could not get over his ex, so she wrote the song for him. What a nice way for him to recall his emotional screw up. Aside from another brilliant performance from Hannah, this song is the perfect opportunity to mention that the musicianship on the entire record is top notch. There are numerous contributors on the record, but the core group is Sovine on guitars, Brad Pemberton on drums and percussion, Andrew Higley on keys, and Lane Baker on bass. I believe that the playing on this record would make "The Swampers" proud!
3. "Strand of Pearls" - The third cut from “Razor Wire” is “Strand of Pearls.” The song opens with an ominous guitar riff and an invitation for a walk down to the bank of Cypress Creek. While a man and a woman make the journey to that creek bed together, only the man returns from the veil of fog. Aldridge explains that she originally intended for it to be a love song and it morphed into a love song with a murder ending by the time she got to the third verse. “That was my one attempt at a love song for the record. I guess love songs aren’t my strong suit.”
“Pearls” is the perfect example of Hannah Aldridge’s skill as a story teller. Through the mixture of lyrics that tell just enough, a vocal delivery that brings believability to the story and a musical arrangement that creates the perfect mood for the scene, Aldridge tells a tale that will pull the listener right into the story. By this third track, the listener should be able to tell that there is much more to Hannah Aldridge than just being a singer/songwriter. Her attention to the details and the subtleties of her arrangements make her stand out from the pack. Case in point is the saw solo in this song. It sounds crazy, but when you here it, it just works. Hannah describes her sound as Dark Americana and after you listen to “Stand of Pearls” you will know what she means.
4. "Razor Wire" - As good as the first three songs of the record are, the title track, “Razor Wire,” is a launching pad for where the rest of the record goes from here. As a writer, I have a huge responsibility to find the right words to do the music justice. I am almost tempted to stop right here because the upcoming material is just so powerful, I don’t know how my words can even come close to doing it justice. However, I will carry on with the disclaimer that my words will just offer a small insight into this music. You truly need to experience it for yourself to fully understand and appreciate it. This music is meant to be felt, and not just heard.
Tom Waits once said, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” I believe that Mr. Waits would be a huge fan of the song “Razor Wire.” The track opens with a single acoustic guitar and a vulnerable vocal from Hannah. “Twenty-Five years of hard earned mistakes, look well-rehearsed from the stands. I sit outside of that pawnshop crying, holding that ring in my hand.” It is a song about a relationship that has run its course and someone finding herself on her own for the first time in many years. It is a song about hurt, loneliness and regret all wrapped up in a beautiful 4 minutes and 56 seconds. And while the world of music is full of songs about love lost, not many generate the raw emotion like this one does. It is amazing to think that Aldridge has only been writing songs for about five years. Her ability to find the perfect combination of words to convey real feelings can only be described as a gift. While my words may fully fail to explain this, I will allow Hannah’s words to speak for themselves. “Oh, I miss you tonight. I’m so lonesome I feel like I’m dying. Cause love comes in like a thief in the night and leaves you with razor wire…oh I’m hanging by razor wire.”
"Razor Wire" was written in the middle of the night after I went and pawned my wedding ring. It was the song that kind of made all of the thoughts in my mind regarding my divorce come together into something that made sense to me.
5. "Parchman" - Hopefully your goose bumps from “Razor Wire” have not gone down yet, because our next song will surely cause them to come right back. "Parchman" finds Hannah playing the role of a woman who took matters in her own hands and finally finds peace with the results of her decision. The song opens with a tender piano line but it doesn’t take long to realize that this is not a sappy feel good song. In case you are unfamiliar with Parchman, it is another name for the Mississippi State Penitentiary. My own interpretation of the song leaves me to believe that the woman telling her story was abused by a man for many years until she was left with no other choice but to take the law into her own hands. In fact, she offers a confession, “I might have killed that man but I’m not guilty, no. Cause I’m just waiting on my turn to feel that needle burn when they send me home “.
At the risk of being accused of sounding redundant, I will not talk about how great Hannah’s songwriting is. And I will not talk about her powerful vocal delivery. Instead, I will tell you about the first time I heard the song. It was when I saw Hannah live for the first time. At this point I had not heard the album, let alone this song. When she performed this song and got to the chorus “Oh, Parchman is my home…” I was completely blown away. The best way I can describe the emotion of her performance was like a warm knife cutting through butter. Okay, so I guess I am talking about her vocal ability again. But my point is new. After you buy the album “Razor Wire” and come to appreciate it for the brilliant record it is, your next goal should be to see Hannah live. As good as she sounds on the record, she will manage to take your appreciation of what she does to a whole new level.
"Parchman" was written by me, Gary Baker , and Greg Barnhill. We wanted to write something that could be a voice of the underdog. I also wanted it to be a voice for woman.
6. "Howlin' Bones - To recap, in the first five songs of “Razor Wire,” we have seen many sides of Hannah Aldridge. We have also been exposed to several different emotions. Well, you haven’t seen anything yet. Today’s track, “Howlin’ Bones,” introduces the listener to the pissed off Hannah. The song opens with a soulful warning from the singer, “Oh, don’t you know? You don’t shake no howlin’ bones.” After a cool electric guitar riff, she provides a list of reasons that back up her claim. With lines like, “Sticks and stones won’t leave me shaking, cause when I shoot I aim for blood,” and, “You thought I was a dirty scoundrel, but you’ve done crossed the devil now,” you realize that Hannah is not to be messed with. Now, she could be singing from a character’s perspective, but is that a chance you would want to take? After hearing this song, one may describe Aldridge as tough, sassy and downright ballsy, all of which I think would be accurate. But perhaps the best description that I have read about “Howlin’ Bones” is that it is “an angry declaration of independence.”
Several female country products of Music Row have attempted to write…rather sing a song with this kind of message. Most have failed. The thing that makes “Howlin’ Bones” work is that it is not contrived. It wasn't written in an office by a man and given to the woman to sing. It is an honest expression that is coming from an honest place. Anger is a real emotion that comes during a breakup. In this case, the words are coming from the heart that felt the pain. That makes the song real. If after this song you don’t get that Hannah Aldridge is the real deal, I don’t know what else I can say to you. If you do get it, what are you waiting for? Order the album now!
"That was the centerpiece of the record. Once I wrote that song, everything else fell into place."
7. "Try" - The seventh song on “Razor Wire,” is quite a treat. Aldridge takes a break from her own material for the albums only cover song, “Try.” Have you ever heard of a guy named Jason Isbell? Yeah, I thought so. “Try” is a song that was included on Isbell’s 2007 release, “Sirens of the Ditch.” Like Hannah, Jason Isbell is also a Muscle Shoals native. As she was going through Isbell’s back catalogue of music a few years back, this track became one of her favorites. When it came time to put the record together, she thought that it would be fun to include it on the album. There is one thing that Hannah’s version has that Jason’s does not….The 400 Unit. For those of you who don’t know, The 400 Unit is Jason Isbell’s band. So, with Isbell’s blessing, The 400 Unit went into the studio with Aldridge and put their mark on the song. The final product is a scorcher with The 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden laying down some awesome guitar work throughout the song. The song also showcases Aldridge’s ability to rock out. This collaboration really speaks of what’s going on down there in Muscle Shoals. Take this opportunity to discover Hannah Aldridge, and to also dig a little deeper into Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’s material.
"I was honored to have The 400 Unit be a part of my record. It was such a pleasure to work with them. This song was my tip of the hat to Muscle Shoals."
8. "Black and White" - Something truly special happened with today’s song, “Black and White.” The song which Hannah wrote for her son, Jackson, happened to fall on Mother’s Day. I am going to switch things up a little bit. It seems only right for Hannah to tell you about this song. I will offer my insight at the end.
“I sat down and looked at a picture of my son, Jackson, in black and white. I thought to myself ‘I want to go back to those days when the most important thing in the world was what flavor ice cream I was going to have after school.’ This was the most honest song I have ever written. It is true line for line and I still tear up when I sing it sometimes. I think we all start frantically searching for the rewind button after the age of 24 or 25”
The Music Room's Insight:
In December of 1969 The Rolling Stones recorded over a three day period at Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals. One of the legendary songs that the band cut over those three days was “Wild Horses.” Black and White is Hannah Aldridge’s “Wild Horses."