Playing with the Past: A review of the works of Rhiannon Giddens

After digging through the a number of concerts on NPR.com, I stumbled upon an interview with artist Rhiannon Giddens from last year on the World Cafe, a program that showcases artists through interviews and performances. In the interview, Giddens discusses her solo career and the release of her album Tomorrow Is My Turn.

rhiannon_giddens_tff_01

Giddens is an original member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group which that focuses on folk and country music. With a powerful, opera-trained voice, Giddens has led the group in song while also playing fiddle, banjo, and other instruments. The Carolina Chocolate Drops originally consisted of four members and a multitude of string instruments, kazoo, jug, and more. Five albums were released between 2006-2012. And in 2010, they won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album with their latest album, Genuine Negro Jig. Since then, some members, including Giddens, have decided to pursue some solo time. That’s not to say that they band is done; however, Giddens has been quite busy since then.

In 2013, Giddens began work on a project with producer T Bone Burnett. The project was The New Basement Tapes, in which Burnett gathered a number of talented artists (Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim and James Marcus, and Giddens) to create an album based upon long lost lyrics Bob Dylan had written in 1967 while recording Basement Tapes (released 1975) with members of The Band.

A concert was held that same year entitled Another Day, Another Time to showcase the music used in the Cohen brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis. Over 30 folk and country artists/bands participated, including Giddens. The concert has since been turned into an audio recording and a full concert film, Another Day, Another time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis” and features one of Gidden’s moving performances of the traditional folk song, “Waterboy”.

Her latest project has been her solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn. This was originally the title of a song sung by jazz singer Nina Simone on her 1965 record I Put a Spell on You. Simone is just one of the many female vocalists of the past in which Giddens pays homage to on her own album. She performs a number of songs from the past (all but one in fact, “Angel City”), but manages to make them her own. Giddens even mentions in her World Cafe interview that for many she stopped listening to the original recordings of songs months in advance in order to form her own take on them.

Giddens performs “Tomorrow Is My Turn” far more differently the Simone’s version. The original version was jazzy and upbeat; however, Gidden’s has slowed the pace, infused it with sound of sadness or regret, and given it a French-noir feel. “She’s Got You”, originally popularized by Patsy Cline, retains some of the country sound, but it is infused with a brass section that creates an interesting jazz/country combination. The traditional songs are anchored with roots in folk music and includes pieces which were sung by more of Gidden’s predecessors, including the gospel guitar-wielding Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ever so popular Dolly Parton, and Geeshie Wiley – a blues singer/guitar player from the 1930s.

While some people use solo projects to move down different paths, Rhiannon Giddens has used her solo album to delve deeper into the music she has dedicated the past ten years to. Tomorrow Is My Turn is an exploration in folk, country, jazz, and gospel and is a nod, or curtsy if you will, to the leading ladies of the years gone by.

 

Notable sites and sources:

Tiny Desk Concerts
http://www.npr.org/series/tiny-desk-concerts/

Dye, David. “Rhiannon Giddens on World Cafe.” World Cafe. March 2, 2015.
http://www.npr.org/sections/world-cafe/2015/03/02/390156124/rhiannon-giddens-on-world-cafe

Rhiannon Giddens
http://rhiannongiddens.com

Carolina Chocolate Drops
http://www.carolinachocolatedrops.com

The New Basement Tapes
http://www.thenewbasementtapes.com/info/

Inside Llewyn Davis
http://www.nonesuch.com/albums/another-day-another-time-celebrating-music-inside-llewyn-davis

“Waterboy” – performed by Rhiannon Giddens at the Americana Music Festival 2015
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekA5XmLkf_o

Riannon Giddens YouTube Channel
https://www.youtube.com/user/rhiannongiddens

Image credits:

By Schorle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

More links:

Heylin, Clinton. The Guardian. ”Bob Dylan’s back pages: the truth behind the Basement Tapes.”
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/30/bob-dylan-basement-tapes-myth-reality-clinton-heylin

BobDylan.com – track listing for Basement Tapes
http://www.bobdylan.com/us/music/basement-tapes

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