Maybe Rob Aldridge thinks too much. That’s not necessarily a fault, but it does hinder him from feeling. That’s troubling for a guy who proposes that maybe the whole reason for human existence is love. This tension between what’s in his head and what’s in his heart makes Mind Over Manners compelling. However, as the album’s name suggests, thinking usually wins.
The title song concerns the Black Lives Matter movement and those more concerned with the crime in the streets. Aldridge explains that his insights on American racism were inspired by a college class he took on postcolonialism in Africa and a book he read. Like fellow Southerner Jason Isbell, he feels a special responsibility to speak out because of his region’s shameful history. He steadfastly asks, “How can we even try to deny?” in the song’s chorus. It’s a rhetorical question. Aldridge doesn’t supply the answer per se. He presumes the listener knows enough about the past (and present). He provides his response in the passion with which he sings.
The Alabama rocker fills his songs with emotionally charged vocals and briskly played acoustic and electric guitar lines that vibrate with raw energy. He’s ably backed by Rob Malone (electric guitar), Stone Anderson (bass), and Nick Recio (drums). These three keep the songs moving forward as Aldridge’s voice twists and turns through the rhythms. He frequently stretches out syllables reaching for high notes as the band keep time and adorn the proceedings with decorative riffs and beats. Such songs as “Beatlesque Nowhere” and “This Time” have strong psychedelic components as well. The background waves of pop sound are reminiscent of the Fab Four’s exploratory efforts.
Most of the material falls in the contemporary Southern rock category, more Drive-By Truckers than Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a heavy accent on rock. A superficial listen to the sound of the music through a closed-door reveals the power and vitality of each of the dozen tracks. Aldridge musically addresses a host of heavy topics, from organized religion to sexual harassment to drug addiction to depression. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he’s compassionate and angry, depending on the song and the situation. When he doesn’t know what to say, he lets the musical instruments do the talking, as in the boisterous “Explaining to Do”. The sound of a guitar can express what is hard to define.
“All God’s children wanna make good,” Aldridge sings on “This Time”. That seems to be the hopeful theme of the album as a whole. The songs’ protagonists desire something better than what is. Closer attention to the lyrics reveals more is going on in his head than his heart. This is music, not propaganda for any particular cause or causes. Aldridge understands the danger of just feeling. His lyrics repeatedly ask one to challenge one’s assumptions and observe the world from more than one perspective. This matches the melodies that travel different paths before arriving back at the chorus. Whether he’s detailing the negative aspects of life or celebrating the positive ones, Aldridge asks us to use our minds and our hearts.