Fervor Coulee Bluegrass Blog
Darin and Brooke Aldrige This Life We're Livin'
Donald Teplyske | September 12, 2021
Billy Blue Records
Only one other artist has achieved four consecutive IBMA Female Vocalist nods, and that was the legendary Rhonda Vincent who nabbed six-in-a-row in the early-to-mid-aughts. Brooke Aldridge takes a step closer to that this autumn should she be named for the fifth consecutive time, an achievement of which she is most deserving.
Since 2017, she has annually been handed the crystal trophy, and while husband Darin Aldridge hasn't received similar recognition—instrumentally or vocally—the duo has garnered significant attention. Several high charting songs, numerous annual IBMA award nominations, outstanding albums—they are, without doubt—one of bluegrass music's most consistent outfits.
The husband-and-wife team present as a loving, capable, and focused force, and one hopes that their life together is as copacetic as it appears. Whether giving online tutorials on vocal harmony, sharing their music live via video, their Carolina Sessions series, or releasing high-quality albums, the North Carolina-based Aldridges infuse their performances with enthusiasm, devotion, and comradery.
Following a single release on Rounder Records, the Aldridges have moved to the burgeoning Billy Blue label for "This Life We're Livin'," by my count their ninth release. And for the most part, it is an outstanding bluegrass recording.
Impressively, five original numbers are included, and they are among the album's stronger numbers. Writing with Bill Whyte, "Grand Ole Circle" is especially striking; while the feeling of this song has been captured elsewhere, the Aldridges' personal experience is built into the song providing additional resonance. Touching the heartstrings a little, and reminiscent of but more expansive than "Mama's Opry" of many years ago, is "Livin' Mama's Dream," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris.
Always pleasing, a Guy Clark (and Jon Randall Stewart) song is included; "Die Tryin'" appeared on Clark's "Cold Dog Soup" CD of a couple decades ago, and I'm always pleased to hear a Clark deep cut get a bit of attention. That the Aldridges' interpretation of the song—with Darin taking the lead and Brooke harmonizing on the chorus—is earnest and true is no small bonus. Even more assured is Darin's lead on "Million Miles of Highway (When It's Over)" and kudos to whomever suggested this Alan Thornhill song.
The lead single "Blue Baby Now," long ago and previously recorded by The Whites, is a nice, lively start to this recording, while introspective songs like "Once In A While" and "No Mistakes" and the inspiring "He's Getting Me Ready" (featuring the Oak Ridge Boys) provide suitable variety. One of the album's more robust songs is the original (with Dennis Duff) "My Life's Living Me;" again, this type of song has been previously written, but the vocal performance given here by Brooke Aldridge is especially strong.
The duo stumbles with song selection only with "Old Fashioned," one of those dime-a-dozen songs that provides rose-coloured reflections on a time when things were so much better...if you were of a certain type. Sigh. County and bluegrass music is filled with these types of songs (most recently from a bluegrass band The Farmhands' "Back in My Day," and who also had an Opry floor song entitled "Circle of Wood") and would be strengthened if writers delved a bit further into the reality of those not as privileged.
That weakness aside, "This Life We're Livin'" continues Darin and Brooke Aldridge's streak of companiable and engaging bluegrass. Instrumentalists include Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Mark Fain, and Ron Block in a few places, alongside Samantha Snyder (fiddle), Matt Menefee (banjo), and Bill Gee (bass.)
Maybe one day we'll get to experience Darin and Brooke Aldridge live locally here in Alberta. Until then, quality album releases will have to satisfy. "This Life We're Livin'" does that, and more.