Lots of rock and soul has come out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. A great deal of musical history can be attributed to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Studio. The Rolling Stones, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and countless others have emerged with nothing less than career bests and golden records.
Alabama singer-songwriter Rob Aldridge grew up about an hour east listening to a lot of Shoals-inspired soul. He moved there right after high school in 2006 to drink from a vast well of talent and swim in it.
“The thing about Shoals is there is a very concentrated yet diverse scene of exceptional talent,” he says. “To be a part of it, you really have to put your big-boy pants on. There’s usually some kind of jam going on any given night, and I remember early on attending and being asked to play and just getting slayed.”
Aldridge strummed alongside the likes of guitarists Kelvin Holly (Little Richard’s band, Neil Young, Pegi Young) and Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt’s band). Alabama Music Hall of Fame member and bassist David Hood (whose son, Patterson Hood, is the Drive-By Truckers’ frontman) also was on the scene, along with a young Jason Isbell.
“I would go home and cry myself to sleep because I felt like I’d embarrassed myself,” Aldridge quips, “but I always got back on the horse and practiced. Nowadays, I’m proud to call most the guys around here my friends. Point is, it feeds on itself, and most of these guys are willing to help you along.”
While Aldridge is used to playing the bar and club scene throughout his home state, he’s excited to play a more intimate-listening setting at downtown Wilmington’s Bourgie Nights this Saturday. He’ll be joined onstage by long-time collaborator and guitarist Rob Malone (formerly of the Drive-By Truckers), bassist Stone Anderson, and though they still haven’t nailed down a full-time drummer, this show will be their first with Kile Raymond.
“We’re all a little nervous,” Aldridge admits, “but he’s a monster drummer, and situations like this usually facilitate some magic moments, so I’m excited about it.”
In youth, Aldridge listened to a lot of Motown and various soul, but “caught the rock buzz” with age and angst. “But I love most genres,” he clarifies. “If I had to choose one band to save the world though, it might have to be Wilco.”
Folks can typically expect a cover or two from various musical influences, such as a jazz-inspired Steely Dan tune or a Southern deep-cut Skynyrd track. However, they play originals from their 2015 record, “Anything and Everyone,” and from their next project.
“We have a few new songs recorded, but one of the things we want to do with this next record (that we didn’t do with the first) is really take our time and get exactly what we want,” Aldridge divulges. “This next record is our baby.”
“Anything and Everyone” was more of a collection of work written over many years—some dating back from when Aldridge was a mere 16. With this new material, he and Malone are specifically trying to steer clear of complication and overproduction.
“Keep things simple with two guitars, bass, drums, and very little reverb unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Aldridge details. “That’s how some of our favorite records were recorded and modern music has strayed so far from that method. We would love to successfully get back to that raw, organic feel and let the songwriting stand on its own.”
Aldridge describes writing as a liberating experience, and while storytelling has often been at the center his work, he’s not opposed to a less-structured stream-of-consciousness approach either. Meaning they’re not all true stories.
“Occasionally, I try to take on the voice of a completely different person,” he says, “but it has to sound honest. So unless I dive into it wholeheartedly, the song may not turn out so good. Also, while I labor over lyrics, pairing the lyrics with the music is just as challenging, important [and] fun.”
Take “Doomsday Prepper” from “Anything and Everyone,” which isn’t autobiographical. According to Aldridge, “it’s a fictional tale with an underlying message pandering to bitter, jaded, lonely hearts.”
“The character in this song is broken,” he explains, “but in order to get through each day, he attempts to weaponize past heartache. Deep down, however, he fears that the worst may be behind him, and he’s wasted his life being so guarded.”
“Frankenstein’s New Girl” is completely fictitious. Written by Aldridge and Malone, it’s their take on what Frankenstein’s “monster” would really be. “Basically, we felt Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was hogwash,” he explains, “because if a straight, red-blooded male had the wherewithal to build his own human being, it wouldn’t be some burly, grunting man; it would probably be a woman of his fantasies. Then we sort of softened his misogynistic edge by making her a gift to humanity.”
While much of “Anything and Everyone” was recorded at Nashville’s Welcome To 1979, they finished the record in Muscle Shoals at FAME studios. Aldridge calls it a vast learning experience. “I’m proud of it,” he says, “but there were lessons learned the hard way that I plan on applying to my sophomore album.”
Lately Aldridge is inspired by and explores themes around love and family. He and his significant other have been together for about five years and he’s now a father of two. “I’ve got a beautiful 10-year-old step-daughter and we have a 1-year-old as well,” Aldridge continues. “So a lot of my writing has inevitably been gravitating toward marital and parental subjects. That being said, I still enjoy putting on a different skin and writing from a fresh perspective. The next record is going to be way more of a guitar-driven rock record, which is more in line with our live shows anyway.”
While there’s no release date yet for his sophomore album, folks can see Rob Aldridge and company at Bourgie Nights on November 19. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and show starts at 9:30 p.m. with local opener Hank Barbee. For more details or tickets, visit Bourgie Nights’ Facebook page.