Will 2017 Be The Breakout Year For Rhiannon Giddens?

rhiannongiddensRhiannon Giddens is an artist everyone should know. The enormously talented singer-songwriter and musician has her second solo album coming out in February, and if there is any justice in this world, it just might be the turning point that makes her a household name.

She first stormed onto the scene in 2010 with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a quartet dedicated to reviving traditional African-American folk music, complete with traditional instruments like the gutbucket bass. Giddens, who is highly skilled on the fiddle and banjo, was insistent on showing that traditional American folk was a widely shared and easily adaptable musical tradition.

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Giddens came to the attention of roots production genius T-Bone Burnett, who called her “the most profound musician active today”. In 2014 he invited her to the New Basement Tapes project which put music to a trove of handwritten Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967 that had been recently been unearthed. Among the stellar members of the project, including Elvis Costello, Jim James and Marcus Mumford, Giddens more than held her own. Everyone could see her prodigious talents really shine.

Now she is on the verge of releasing her second solo album, and this week she released the first single from it, “Freedom Highway”, an old Staple Singers track, and it is brilliant. As always, her music cannot be categorized into any of the usual boxes. That sweet jangling guitar running through it conjures up the Staples for sure, but it also reminds me of early Jefferson Airplane and their soul and blues mashups, not to mention the powerful lead vocals.

Now more than ever, Rhiannon Giddens’ time has come. Her joyful jambalaya of heartland grooves may be exactly the kind of message America needs at this moment in history. In a message accompanying the “Freedom Highway” single she wrote:

I am a daughter of the South; of the white working class, of the black working class; of the Democrat, and the Republican; of the gay, and the straight; and I can tell you one thing – we are far more alike than we are different, We cannot let hate divide us; we cannot let ignorance diminish us; we cannot let those whose greed fills their every waking hour take our country from us. They can’t take U.S. from US – unless we let them. I recorded this with Bhi Bhiman, all-American singer-songwriter from St. Louis, whose parents are from Sri Lanka. America’s strength are her people, whether they came 4,000, 400, or 40 years ago, and we can’t leave anyone behind. Let’s walk down Freedom Highway together.

Well you can count me in. Let’s go.

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

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