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Darin & Brooke Aldridge Bring ‘Talk Of The Town’ To Finally Friday

The first time I saw Darin & Brooke Aldridge in about 2008, they were a new duo but they already contained multitudes. They opened a show by Earl Scruggs and Friends in Shelby, NC, just down the road from Cherryville, where the married musical couple still lives. They offered traditional bluegrass, country and gospel, plus an acoustic cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” thrown in like a wildcard. It certainly got my attention, and they’ve held it ever since, as they’ve risen through the ranks of the bluegrass industry to a robust headlining career that’s been bolstered by Brooke’s four IBMA Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year.

This Friday, the Aldridges release Talk of the Town, a collection of original and adopted songs, including the advance singles “The Price I Pay,” nipped from the Desert Rose Band with flashy guitar help by that band’s ace John Jorgenson, as well as “Jordan,” a gospel number assisted by icon Ricky Skaggs. More about their journey below.

By design or coincidence, WMOT’s Finally Friday gets to play host two not one but two contemporary bluegrass stars, because the mighty Becky Buller is joining our lunchtime revue as well. She’s an industry-certified triple threat, having won IBMA Awards for her fiddling, her singing and her songwriting, and she’s taking that proven songcraft in some bold new directions. On May 17, she’ll release Jubilee, a song cycle unlike anything she’s done before. Supported with a commission from the Fresh Grass Foundation, Becky took the time to investigate her lifelong struggle with depression. What I’ve heard is bold and vulnerable, as one would expect.

Rounding out the afternoon is an artist who embodies what my buddy calls the “roots of our roots.” CMAT (say SEE-mat), the performing acronym of Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, made a powerful impression when she released her debut album in her native Ireland, flying up the charts and winning Album of the Year from the country’s biggest broadcaster and music curator. Her sophomore release, out last fall, has also earned raves, including four stars from Mojo. That’s hard to do.

Back in North Carolina, Darin Aldridge had launched his music career at age 16 and spent a year in the earliest iteration of famed roots band Acoustic Syndicate. He hit the road hard with the famed Country Gentlemen through the early 2000s, and then he met Brooke in 2006. She’d earned a reputation as a top-flight singer through church and singing contests, including a few levels of American Idol and Nashville Star. He produced a gospel record that Brooke released under her maiden name, but by the end of 2008, they were married.

“I didn't know anything about the music world” at that point, Brooke told me last week on a joint video interview. “But I knew that I wanted to have a music career at some point. So the more that we got to talking and realized that we had the same goals and ambitions, you know, it was just obvious that we were both wanting to go in the same direction.” Their first album as Darin & Brooke Aldridge came out in 2010 on the Mountain Home label.

They plunged into the bluegrass circuit with a sound that drew on a wide swath of music, from Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs to, well, Neil Young. In fact they’ve been more eclectic than some give them credit for, Darin said. “We were told one time by somebody pretty important in the business that we might ought to just go completely gospel or contemporary gospel and do nothing else,” he said. “And we thought about it, but we didn't think about it long, because Brooke and I have always made music that was us, you know? That wide thing of bluegrass, country and gospel and what we pick and choose, just like this latest album. It's all us, you know? That's our sound.”

A Fun Finally Friday Fact is that during the early 2010s, Becky Buller joined the Aldridge band on fiddle before taking off on her own solo career. But it was 2017 that everything clicked for Darin and Brooke. They made their debut on the Grand Ole Opry that summer. Vince Gill invited them to be on the Ryman bluegrass series. And then in the fall, Brooke won her first IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award. I remember the rapturous and emotional satisfaction the audience showed her that night, because many had been rooting for her.

Darin and Brooke told me about another turn around the same time that spread their reach - a series of package tours with Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers and John Cowan, the bass player and singer who pursued a solo career after more than a decade with New Grass Revival. It was an interesting lineup that let them all show their strengths, separately and together.

“We were exposed to bigger audiences and different audiences,” Brooke said. “I think that really brought me out of my shell more and more. I think we were able to showcase really what Darin and I both could do, not only as a couple, but outside of that, too, you know? So I think that really kind of opened new doors for us.”

Now more than fifteen years into the journey, the Aldridges are bluegrass and North Carolina institutions. Last fall, they were immortalized as part of a statewide music mural series by painter Scott Nurkin, which includes Doc and Merle Watson, Nina Simone and other icons. That was part of the inspiration for calling this Friday’s album Talk of the Town. It’s their tenth, which is a nice round number and another mark of tenacity and longevity. Darin, who’s been on the road since 16 years old says as he approaches 47 that the travel has started to get a bit harder. But Brooke says his stamina’s not an issue: “He comes from a long line of truckers.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org