Every year or so, I convince myself that Darin and Brooke Aldridge’s streak of making a record that’s better than the last one will come to an end. It’s nothing more than the law of averages, really, and it happens to every band and artist, in bluegrass and other genres.
And every year or so, they prove me wrong.
And so it’s my turn to say once again, I was wrong.
Inner Journey, the duo’s debut on Rounder Records after much success on the Mountain Home label, is easily their best work to date. The material is first-rate, the musicianship is flawless and the singing is sublime, but what would you expect from IBMA’s female vocalist of the year for the third year running?
It’s that first thing, the choice of material, that makes this record shine just a little brighter than their previous work. Darin and Brooke always search far and wide to find songs they want to sing, maybe even need to sing.
This time, they dug up gems by British folk rock legends Richard Thompson (Tear Stained Letter) and Graham Nash (Teach Your Children), American country songbird Nancy Griffith (Trouble In The Fields) and Australian country star Kasey Chambers (This Flower).
The real surprise in that bunch is Teach Your Children. While their music has long had hints of country leanings, there are no hints whatsoever in Teach Your Children. The arrangement is hit-you-over-the-head country rock though and through, with electric guitars, pedal steel, and drums. It’s the one cut among 12 that will frustrate bluegrass purists, but they’ll get over it when they listen to the rest of the CD.
Least surprising, perhaps, is the inclusion of a song by Chambers. Her work has become a big part of Darin and Brooke’s recordings and their stage shows. I’ve been a Chambers fan for years, was delighted when the Aldridges started tapping into her catalog, and I hope it continues. (Once In A While one of these days, please?)
But to me, among all of the gems that stand out on Inner Journey, Emmylou is far and away the best. It was written a few years ago by a pair of young Swedish folkie sisters, Klara and Johanna Soderberg. It’s fairly obscure song – that’s about to change as Darin and Brooke’s version gets radio play – that focuses on the special bond of singing with someone you love.
The song gives a lyrical shoutout to two legendary pairs of singing partners, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, and June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. The Soderberg sisters performed the song at an Emmylou Harris tribute a few years back, so it was no accident that Brooke found the song and loved it. She’s been an Emmylou acolyte for a long time.
The sheer joy that can be heard in Brooke’s lead and Darin’s harmony will keep this one on their set lists for years to come.
I could go on about the rest of the CD, but don’t listen to me. You need to listen to this and make your own discoveries. If you’re late to the Darin and Brooke party, Inner Journey is a great place to start. If you’re already on board, it’s also a great place to take your enthusiasm to the next level.
Some of the songs here are already making a splash on the radio, and the CD is sure to turn up near the top of yearend lists compiled by bluegrass reviewers and on awards ballots.
I’m tempted to say I can’t imagine how they will top this record the next time out. But I’m going to be a little smarter this time. In fact, I hope they DO top it in a year or two. That means we’ll have some new incredible music to listen to from the best bluegrass duo since Carter and Ralph Stanley sang together.