ALBUM REVIEW: Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow Is My Turn | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Released: Monday 9th February

 

More information on Rhiannon Giddens’ official website

 

Since 2005 Rhiannon Giddens has lead the terrific group Carolina Chocolate Drops on an often heedless quest into the back-alleys of American folk music. Their album Genuine Negro Jig was a host of incendiary traditionals, and the best song was a cover of Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style. Giddens is anything if not surprising. This, her debut solo album, proves it.

Some cuts don’t quite work, such as a mawkish cover of Dolly Parton’s Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind. Her rendition of Waterboy is forceful, but nothing compared to Odetta’s ground-shaking version. The title track is a meandering Nina Simone cover, with dark strings, hazy electric guitar and a stately vocal.

Giddens is an extraordinary singer at the worst of times, and on these less successful tracks her skill and unpredictability keep you listening. Moments like these occur on a gorgeous performance of Patsy Cline’s She’s Got You; or the way she drags out the line “I love the ground whereon he stands” over the hurried dance-beat of Black Is The Color.

But these are window dressing next to this album’s richest moments. Shake Sugaree begins gently, a huge feeling of loss swept away by the gradually building tempo of the guitar, violin and drums, and replaced by the deepest sense of hope. A sense of hope that Giddens immerses herself in fully on Angel City, the only original composition here: a wistful, airy song of self-discovery.

Better, though, her cover of Geeshie Wiley’s Last Kind Words. It’s one of the eeriest, most enigmatic Mississippi blues and Giddens dominates it. Wiley’s bone-chilling recording, in the guitars and the terrifying, droning voice, was all doom. This performance is pure menace: acoustic and distorted electric guitars hammer out the relentless melody, piling notes on top of one another, Wiley’s resignation replaced by defiance as Giddens remembers her mother’s futile plea “Dear daughter, don’t you be so wild.

Then there’s the roving mountain ballad O Love Is Teasin’, perhaps the album’s best moment, a breathtaking crystallization of everything Giddens does well. Superficially, it’s a meditation on the transience of love. But mere lyrics, no matter how graceful, can’t account for the vast, sweeping tragedy in the soaring violin and Giddens’ keening vocal. The tone is so sombre, the thudding retreat of the guitar and drums at the end sounds apocalyptic.

The variation of this album proves Rhiannon Giddens’ adaptability: soul, gospel, pop… But eclecticism is a virtue that can be taught. Nothing can explain talent this pure and deep. Giddens’ connection to folk music is nothing less than profound.

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