On their seventh studio release, and first for the venerable Rounder Records label, bluegrass music’s reigning power-duo present another collection of stellar modern bluegrass, avoiding pitfalls of select contemporaries.
With Rhonda Vincent having largely abandoned recording bluegrass during the last decade, and Dale Ann Bradley no longer receiving her just accolades, Brooke Aldridge has emerged as a leading contender whenever vocal awards are considered. Now a three-time (and reigning) IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Aldridge has matured into a formidable, distinctive force via recording and touring. Darin Aldridge, formerly of the Country Gentlemen, has long been highly regarded for both harmony singing and guitar and mandolin instrumental mastery. Together, they have topped the bluegrass charts, filling their albums with well-considered covers, new songs, and—occasionally—original material.
Inner Journey is marked by consistent yet individually distinct performances, a mix of pleasing tempos and approaches with no two songs unconsciously flowing together. Top-tier bluegrass, this is.
The duo’s harmony precision is readily noticed within “Sweet Companion,” a Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, and Sally Barris co-write from several years ago. Similarly, Nanci Griffith’s (and Rick West’s) “Trouble in the Fields” is exquisitely presented—the second time the duo have covered Griffith—with Brooke more than holding her own on a song well-engrained, with Darin adding depth to the telling. Billy Gee (bass) and Rob Ickes (Dobro) contribute to this one.
Gripping is their interpretation of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s timeless “Teach Your Children”—featuring Darin prominently—a song infused with Ron Block’s banjo and especially the fiddles of Carley Arrowood (from their traveling band) and Aubrey Haynie, whose name continues to be misspelled on liner notes well into his third decade of professional performance. Darin also takes a co-lead position on the more dreary “When You Love Someone.”
Familiar songs from the Louvins (“Every Time You Leave,”) Kasey Chambers (another artist previously covered, “This Flower,”) and Richard Thompson (“Tear-Stained Letter”) contribute to the home-hewn feeling of Inner Journey, the capper being the epic coda, “Your Lone (Long) Journey” from the Watson family tradition.
The album’s most endearing song may prove to be “Emmylou,” a captivating ‘grassified version of a number from Sweden’s First Aid Kit—“l’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too.” Recognizing the joy of singing with a loved one, “Emmylou” is well-suited to the Aldridges.
Gretchen Peters’ songbook (“End Of A Long Hard Day”) and Earl Scruggs’ Family and Friends album (“I Found Love”) are also mined. Brooke’s “Someone’s Everything” is the sole original piece, perhaps the first time one of her songs has been recorded. Featuring the album core of Aldridge times two, Arrowood, Block, Haynie, and co-producer Mark Fain (bass) and Tommy White (Dobro,) this sweet number is a keeper. Matt Menefee (banjo) and Zeb Snyder (guitar) appear selectively, while Jimmy Fortune adds his characteristic country voice to the Louvin Brothers’ number.
This is bluegrass performed to its highest level, rock-solid historical reverence sparked with modern innovation. A cracker to add to the collection, me thinks.
Here are First Aid Kit singing “Emmylou” to…Emmylou Harris: pretty remarkable.