I guess it’s a little like reading the book before you watch the film, but I heard Hannah Aldridge’s second album before her first.

What you do, in that circumstance, is you make assumptions, you’ve got your ideas, you’ve made up your mind. What the best artists do is they don’t let you settle.

Let there be no doubt about this, Hannah Aldridge is one of the best songwriters there is, but what you’ll never do is second-guess her.

Her songs have always been less like the Americana/Muscle Shoals thing she gets lazily lumped in with (look it up if you don’t know why, this record is not about that and neither should this review be) than some Wide-screen ideal, like there’s a miniseries playing in her head and she gives the characters life.

She’s also got one of the most expressive voices around. Capable of immense power, she’s also got a gift of sounding so vulnerable. Like she’s confessing something, on “Dorero”, the opening song here, she adopts a half whisper and it’s one of the most unsettling things she’s ever done.

And actually if you had one word to discuss “Dream Of America” then “unsettling” is the one. On the truly brilliant “Portrait Of The Artist As A Middle Aged Man” (a cover of Lachlan Bryan and Damian Cafarella – who play on the album) she sings of the family the character has left behind: “no one’s singing Christmas songs around here” and that’s basically the point. Then she whispers in your ear “when you’ve hurt the one’s you love the most, it’s best to disappear up the coast”. It sounds like she’s talking to you. You question yourself through these words.

“Beautiful Oblivion” is more her conventional sound, but it’s slower, more deliberate, and strip it away and there’s a dark heart beating.

“Unbeliver” touches country, but it deals directly with her strict Christian upbringing. It’s hard to tell on a character-based record like this, where the person ends and the story starts, but this sounds more personal, and the keys on the beautiful “The Fall” a co-write and duet with Ben Glover, add a depth to a record that is never less than compelling.

The record’s second cover is one of its most interesting songs. Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” (perhaps the perfect cover for this mood of album?) is done in a way that befits the vibe and is a world away from the original. Never has the phrase “I hate people when they’re not polite” been delivered more chillingly.

On the closing “The Great Divide”, there’s a dabble with an electronic sound. The drums pulse, and she looks beyond the Northern Lights and dreams of home (this one has the album title in its hook).

And everyone on this is dreaming of something, longing for something else, these are the forgotten, the lost, the alone. The sort of people Springsteen would have looked past on “Western Stars” but who still have their stories, their demons and their past.

“Dream of America” is not so much a departure as a progression in many ways, but its less the American Dream, and more an entry point to a nightmarish and dark world.

Rating 8.5/10

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