To say that Kevin Aldridge has just made the record of his career is a bold statement. The 39-year-old singer-songwriter has been churning out his particular brand of elegant, sophisticated, country-tinged Americana for more than half his life. But The Viper Sessions finds the Fort Worth native in peak form, his years of steady toil having polished his chops to a steely gleam. And save some credit for his helpers, including guitarist/producer Scott Davis and drummer Kenny Smith, two-thirds of the backing band of Austin-based Americana giant Hayes Carll (and former members of the beloved defunct Fort Worth twang-rock outfit Woodeye).
Recorded in 2010 in Austin at both Cedar Creek Recording and Yellowdog Studios, The Viper Sessions is Aldridge’s first record since his days with his previous vehicle, Chatterton, circa 2009. Full of sumptuous melodies and a little guitar bite, the 10-song album represents a new chapter in newlywed Aldridge’s life. “Not wanting to be in a bar-band was a big reason why I made the record in the first place,” he said, “because when you’re not in a bar as much, [writing music is] what you should be doing.”
Though he got his hands on the masters nearly a year ago, he waited until earlier this month to release the album. “The sexy answer is timing,” he said. “The truth is I didn’t have a [backing] band.”
That lack and pretty much everything else about The Viper Sessions has been a divergence for Aldridge. “It’s always been, you’ve written songs, you’ve played them in front of people, and then you go record them like you play them live,” he said. “As I get older, that doesn’t happen that much.”
From the beginning, Aldridge knew that he wanted to work with Davis and Smith –– and that he wanted to get the hell outta Dodge. “Honestly,” Aldridge said, “I’ve used a lot of studios in this town, and I didn’t want to do the same things I’d done before. A lot of it was just shedding skin and starting new. I recorded it in a way that I’d never done before.”
The biggest changes, he said, were that almost all of the songs were recorded live and he did not sing while playing guitar. He just sang. The process began with song snippets. Aldridge e-mailed them intermittently to Davis for feedback. By the time the decision was made to record in Austin, where all the contributors live, including bassist Adam Odor and guitarist Don Cento, Davis had drawn up charts for everyone. “We just kind of worked up the songs and then rolled tape,” Aldridge said.
True to Aldridge’s style, none of the songs is easily classifiable. There’s some twang, sure, especially in the fretwork of Davis and Austinite-via-Dallas Cento. But The Viper Sessions is mostly a rock ’n’ roll record. It’s like yacht-rock (or soft-rock) but instead of a big, fancy boat, imagine a pickup truck. Or a shiny vintage Woodie. “You Got it Wrong” is a toe-tapper with a great repetitive yet catchy chorus, Davis’ six-string jangling and ringing like Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker off an early R.E.M. record. The ostensible single is “Layin’ Around,” a dramatic slow-burner carried by Aldridge’s unaffected tenor and pivoting on a nifty little refrain, “Left me layin’ around / Every time I get out / Every time I get out you want me to stay.”
Lyrically, Aldridge achieves an angsty interrogative mood without any overt bitterness. Even when he’s arguing his side of the story or posing rhetorical questions, he seems removed, like an actor playing a part. “I like being an effective complainer about the world,” he said, adding that the record is mostly driven by relationships, both romantic and familial. “Rock songs are about questioning things,” he said. “But just when you think you’ve got the answers, they change the questions.”
The best compliment Aldridge has received so far has come from fellow Fort Worthian Bobby McCubbins, young frontman of one of the most interesting and ambitious bands in Texas, Skeleton Coast. “He said, ‘Why do you write such pretty songs?’ ” Aldridge recalled, with a laugh. “He said it in a way that [showed] he really gets what we’re doing. We write pretty songs! I dunno!”
Aldridge began assembling his live band about a year ago. At the top of his call list was friend and bassist Steve Steward (Oil Boom, EPIC RUINS). “You want a guy in your band who’s on your side,” Aldridge said. “To me, that’s really important. And he’s a great player.”
The other Appraisers –– guitarist Nick Tagoili, drummer Ryan McCauley, and keyboardist Maui –– joined a short time later. The music, Aldridge said, has changed complexion, all for the better. “In no way are we trying to play [the album] exactly the way it sounds,” he said. “That’s unfair to [The Appraisers]. … We’ve had to find our identity in those 10 songs. … Just finding that balance is really hard to come by. We didn’t want to play our first show and it be a letdown.”
That first show, an under-the-radar gig at The Where House on the Near Southside, was nearly a year ago. Kevin Aldridge & The Appraiser’s CD release show was a couple of weeks ago at Magnolia Motor Lounge. The next step is getting in front of people –– and getting the hell outta Dodge again. A regional tour is in the works. “The whole thing’s been pretty fun,” Aldridge said. “I have a plan, and it may not work. But if it does, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s better than going I’ve spent this much money to get this?!” –– meaning a lot of money for little reward –– “or I’ve spent this much money to get this?” –– meaning a little money for a big reward.
For Aldridge, age ain’t nothin’ but a number. “I’d like to see all the 25-year-old guys doing this when they’re 40,” he said with a shit-eating grin.
Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers
Fri opening for Oil Boom’s CD release at The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, 1311 Lipscomb St, FW. $8. 817-926-0986.