American singer / songwriter Hannah Aldridge has grown up surrounded by music. Her father, Walt Aldridge, has written numerous songs including Number 1 country hits and the family home was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, famed for recording studios that have played host to artists including Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. With that kind of pedigree it may be expected that Dream Of America is going to be a fairly straightforward country album, but that isn’t the case. Hannah describes herself as broad spectrum, not restricted to any genre of music. There is, inevitably, a country feel but also rock, pop and gothic-Americana as the underbelly of life is explored. Here are the fading Hollywood starlets, the outlaws and vagabonds set against a background of Hannah’s southern upbringing where fundamental Christianity and a past still haunted by history struggles to make a future. This is dreams of America, not the American dream, and Hannah tries to build an identity away from the stereotypes.
Hannah certainly has that southern drawl to her smoky vocals that suits dark songs very well especially when her performance is understated, because she doesn’t need power to get her point across. ‘Dorero’ opens the album and was written about the brutal murder in 1947 of Elizabeth Short, known in the press as The Black Dahlia, who seems to have become the bad guy despite being horrendously mutilated by an unknown attacker. The main problem the press had with her was that she didn’t conform to the accepted norms of feminine behaviour at the time. Over 70 years later that’s something that still happens. Hannah takes a more sympathetic approach, that of an innocent victim who had her own demons to fight.
Staying with the underbelly of life ‘Portrait Of The Artist As A Middle Aged Man’ takes a Bonnie and Clyde approach to life on the road, but rather ignoring the Hollywood version and presenting the characters as fumbling in the dark, not really knowing what they’re doing or where they’re going any more offset against the home where Christmas decorations are being put up. In common with a lot of the album, this is a dark and melancholic piece.
The title track ‘Dream Of America’ is strange, to say the least. At just a minute long, with indistinct vocals and a vague electronic, prog-rock feel I wonder what it’s doing on the album. Perhaps that’s the point; that is the fractured, indistinct society she’s trying to capture. It is the only track of the nine on the album that has this impact. The rest are more straightforward.
Although eight of the nine tracks have Hannah as either or co-writer there is one cover. Perhaps not an obvious choice but Hannah takes ‘Psycho Killer’ and does what any good cover should; she makes it her own. It’s been slowed down, the lyrics emphasised and takes a much darker tone in keeping with the album. I have to say, it’s an improvement on the original.
‘Beautiful Oblivion’ is a more traditional country sound, there’s a lapsteel in there somewhere but again it’s Hannah’s languorous vocals that draw the listener in to this song. Once again, it isn’t cheerful. The beautiful oblivion here is death as a final act so a reaction to the fundamentalist, evangelical religion of her upbringing. It also symbolises that struggle she’s had with her demons and the expectations that have been placed on her. It sums up this album as an example of music that will cross boundaries, challenge conventions and make the listener think. It’s also an album of excellent music, nine tracks, with wonderfully emotive vocals and for anyone who enjoys “Americana”, or would like to see what all the fuss is about, it comes highly recommended. Dream Of America releases on the 16th June and is available to pre-order now through Bandcamp in various formats and packages.
Artist’s website: https://hannahaldridge.com/
‘Portrait Of The Artist As A Middle Aged Man’ – official video: