LIVE: Rhiannon Giddens @ The Egg, 4/21/15
Review by Greg Haymes
It’s no accident or mere coincidence that the title of Rhiannon Giddens’ new debut solo album is Tomorrow Is My Turn. And in front of a recent sold-out Tuesday night crowd at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, she proved that she’s got the right stuff to step into the spotlight and grab a larger share of the mainstream music audience.
For a decade now, she’s been at the center of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-timey black string band whose original repertoire centered around the traditional folk music of North Carolina. Over the years, the group has expanded their songbag, won a Grammy Award and undergone a number of personnel changes (Giddens is the only remaining original member). Then a year and a half ago, uber-producer T Bone Burnett approached her about doing a solo album, and it was an offer she simply couldn’t refuse.
In Albany, she focused on the new album while offering a diverse setlist that stretched from country (Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind”) to traditional folk (“O’ Love Is Teasin'”), from gospel (a medley of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “The Lonesome Road” and “Up Above My Head”) to cabaret (Nina Simone’s “Tomorrow Is My Turn”) and beyond.
She was backed by the other members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops – Hubby Jenkins (guitar, mandolin) Rowan Corbett (banjo, bones) and Malcolm Parson (cello, melodica) – as well as a tasteful rhythm section (drummer Jamie Dick and bassist Jason Sypher).
Playing clawhammer banjo and some fiddle, Giddens is also a mighty vocalist with a rich tone and plenty of color, which she made the most of on Elizabeth Cotten’s sparkling blues “Shake Sugaree,” a dramatic rendition of the traditional work song “Waterboy” (made famous by Odetta) and an exuberant, jazz-meets-hip-hop interpretation of the traditional “Black Is the Color,” as well as a couple of Bob Dylan lyrics for which she penned music for the supergroup, the New Basement Tapes.
All in all it was a marvelous performance, and along the way, Giddens was able to bring the music she loves to a wider audience without watering it down or abandoning her roots. And perhaps more importantly, she’s found a way to look back at musical history without getting stuck in the past.
Sri Lankan-American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman opened the evening with a solid, seven-song, solo set that was highlighted by his reggae-inflected opener “Out in the Streets,” the Smokey Robinson-like soul stroll of “Movin’ to Brussels” and “The Color Pink,” which he wryly described as, “What if Pop Staples and Jerry Falwell got together and wrote a song about gay marriage?”
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The band had strength at every position, on whatever instrument Giddens’ songs demanded. But her clear, strong and strategically nuanced voice could have carried the show with almost any band, or none. In this overwhelming vocal showcase, she spanned 1850s Piedmont blues to modern country and jazz, singing true to their times but performing with such accessible immediacy that everything felt fresh as tomorrow.”
RHIANNON GIDDENS SET LIST
Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind
She’s Got You
(instrumental 1850s minstrel medley)
O’ Love Is Teasin’
Black Is the Color
Ruby Are You Mad at Your Man?
Tomorrow Is My Turn
Duncan and Jimmy
The Lonesome Road > Up Above My Head
BHI BHIMAN SET LIST
Out in the Streets
Up in Arms
The Color Pink
It’s Cold Out Here
Movin’ to Brussels
Waterboarded in Love