Saturday, 31 March 2018

GIG REVIEW: Hannah Aldridge + Don Gallardo - John Moore Foundation, Appleby Magna. Friday 30th March

If ghostly tales recurring around the immaculately preserved 300 year-old school hall in the John Moore Foundation prove correct, its occupants have now had to deal with the full force of Hannah Aldridge. Maybe our spiritual cousins just took a seat like everybody else and soaked up the evening’s entertainment, which frequently planted its tentacles into the dark side. For one night only, this culturally diverse East Midlands venue turned into an eerie mist of underground Nashville. Not the brash bright lights of the country music capital, but a thriving metropolis of creative musicians flourishing in a collaborative atmosphere of soaking up a multitude of influences. Joining Hannah for this quirky gathering was fellow Music City resident Don Gallardo as the duo passed like touring ships on a mission to spread their wares far.

What the enlightened mass got to witness on this proverbial Good Friday was two of the finest performing singer-songwriters operating on the scene that often takes shelter under the umbrella of Americana. Hannah’s impassioned gut pouring and Don’s crafted guile made for a splendid combination on an evening where curfews seemed as light as the timeless feel to the setting. Even though local opening act Phantom Horse afforded themselves well over the usual support time, we still had nearly two and a half hours of our stateside guests; this clearly evolved into a night shrouded free of convention.

The ease and clarity of the Don Gallardo performance aligned to what we have come to expect from his records and shows. In unison with his regular touring pal, bassist Travis Stock, the pair rattled through a batch of cultured songs that resonate with immediate positive impact. This is not grower music, but stellar tunes, meaningful lyrics and a cutting edge to power through the genre haziness of country, folk and rock.

Who needs a set list? Well maybe copies of your two most recent CDs rear side up are useful prompts. They certainly were not required for an older song in ‘Burgundy Wine’ or a cover of John Prine’s ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’, but generally the set was based around HICKORY and STILL HERE. The latter is going through a phase of staggered releases between here and the States. Hearing songs live for the first time like ‘The Golden Rule’, Stay Awhile’, ‘The Losing Kind’, ‘Something I Gotta Learn’ and ‘Same Ol’ Alley Talkin’ Blues #12’ suggest this release possesses plenty of stamina.

The latter was dealt with the trademark introductory blurb, an informative aspect perfected over many years. Fans of Don from previous shows needed little reminding about the background to popular songs such as ‘Midnight Sounds’ and ‘The North Dakota Blues’, but patience is required, especially in new venues, with at least some new admirers present. This last song has evolved into the most prominent piece from his repertoire, packed to the hilt with catchy lines and entertaining hooks as an updated entry to the outlaw genre emerges.

In contrast to this being Don and Travis’ penultimate UK show before heading home, Hannah actually raced to Appleby Magna straight from the airport to renew her love affair with Britain after another raft of dates in continental Europe. Hastily readjusting her stage presence including borrowing Don’s guitar proved no barrier as she quickly adopted her stride and proceeded to ascend to a performing level unrivalled in previous shows seen.

Similar to Don, but from a more restricted offering, Hannah uses material off her two albums to recount a bunch of songs, rich in intensity, passion and now a strong sense of familiarity. ‘Old Ghost’ from RAZOR WIRE and ‘Lace’ off the more recent GOLD RUSH album were astutely chosen for the aforementioned surrounding, setting the tone for a set eventually pushing an hour and half long before reaching an impressive crescendo.

That climax came in the trio of main set closer and two encore numbers. An improvised backing band (you know who you are) was hastily assembled to blast out the biting revenge piece ‘Burning Down Birmingham’. On this occasion, a whole city facing Hannah’s wrath, not just an ill-advised individual. Following the immediate encore invite, ‘Parchman’ had its painfully emotive but utterly brilliant airing, stirring the primal instincts of human reaction. To close, who needs amplification when you can unplug from the mains and plug into the natural vacuous acoustics of a high ceilinged hall. If you were not jaw-dropped by an artist pacing around a room belting out ‘Howlin' Bones’, then therapy is available.

Earlier in the set, the live version of ‘Gold Rush’ probably peaked in the rankings of the original songs. Away from these, a version of Tom Waits’ ‘Take It With Me’ was adorable, likewise a dip into the unrecorded world of her song-writing father Walt and a slightly taboo song back home that he wrote with Dylan Le Blanc’s father titled ‘Yankee Bank’. Of course, Don was not let off the hook from returning, and it was fitting that he joined Hannah on the song they co-wrote ‘Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad’.

Corporate sponsored soulless venues may be the inevitable more lucrative desire for touring musicians, but they can never replace the richly textured raw interaction that the quirky pop-up stages provide. Whatever course their career takes them on, these nights will define the artist. Thinking outside the box may be driven by survival but it leads to the most wonderful of musical experiences for fans offering a lifeline to live music. Hannah Aldridge and Don Gallardo feed off this. Those heading to Appleby Magna on a wet and blustery Good Friday evening had the perfect holiday feast.

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