Rhiannon Giddens: Her Turn

Kim, great article; nice writing. I noticed the Buddy Miller produced CD Leaving Eden wasn't mentioned, but that's just me; there was plenty of story in there. Really good writing, thanks!

Wow!  Thanks Kim.

Leaving Eden was a high point for me from CCD;  I loved seeing them live in Toronto, Rhiannon extremely pregnant and complaining about not having the breath she needed for some of the songs.  Didn't seem like such a problem, it was an outstanding performance.

She talked quite a bit about her celtic connections, studying Gaelic in Nova Scotia, winning Gaelic singing contests in Britain.  And also about a black Gaelic-speaking community in the Carolinas.  It was like a graduate seminar in music history, by a particularly gifted lecturer.  You don't often see knowledge, talent and charisma combined to such good effect.

It's interesting that pretty much all of the current promotion around the new recording glosses over or doesn't mention at all the celtic connection.  It was clearly pretty important to Rhiannon, she talked about it a lot, including how her daughter was growing up bilingual (English/Gaelic). And it was clearly important to her through the time of the Llewyn Davis concert, where she brought the audience to its feet with her dynamite Gaelic performance.  But that seems to be then, not now.

In any event, think the new CD is outstanding, have been listening to it on repeat.  I've always like stylistic jumps in recordings, although some people don't. Hers are wonderful to my ear.

Excellent piece, duly deserved by Giddens, and great timing with what is the best album in any genre I've heard yet this year, and in some time actually. It's good to hear some of the story of Clemons departure from the band. I suspected as much. Two strong artists and personalities, each with valid and believable points of view, but too different for one band to contain.

I had seen the Carolina Chocolate Drops twice while they were both in it, a couple years apart, and what was remarkable between the shows was how much Rhiannon had grown as a singer, even given her incredible vocal instrument, especially as a presence, comfortable in her own skin onstage. Her new album shows a continuation of that growth and is just jaw dropping. 

I don't know of another singer who, like Giddens, combines the use of vibrato (which I don't particularly like in any singer - just my thing) so appropriately, along with just nailing the rest of the notes dead on so truly, even in the course of a few words, let alone the entire album, so effectively. She combines masterful technique with heartfelt meaning that is unmistakeable and very real. The title track is one of the best single recordings I've ever heard, and the eclecticism of the album's song choices is very cool. Significantly, T-Bone regularly brings out the absolute best in whomever and whatever he touches. Thank you, thank you, thank you, etc., to all, including Kim for fleshing this masterpiece out.

Incidentally, I think it was around this time last year that Beck released "Morning Phase", which was then and remained my favorite album of 2014. I don't put any stock at all in the Grammies, which are about money and money only,  with tangential artistic association, but they stumbled into doing that category some justice. Maybe "Tommorow Is My Turn" will turn up big next year.

You are SO RIGHT about T-Bone Burnett. Even though I feel his own musical output has some Gems, I find it  is spotty. Everything he produces for others I seem to like.  Like he saves the best for other artists.

There was a time when I would be enjoying a new album then think, "I wonder if T-Bone Burnett had anything to to with this" and sure enough....Los Lobos, Marshall Crenshaw, Tommy Keene, Peter Case, The BoDeans, Elvis Costello, his ex-wife Sam....all before 1990 (and Gillian Welch not too long after that)!  For some, it was the album that really got them going, for some, their best albums.

"Why are Black people playing the banjo".... now that's funny.    It's too much to hope for I know, but we should all have  "had enough of the Legacy of Racism in America".   

Excellent article Kim. As usual.  Certainly well researched as always. And you'd be the first, that I know, to draw a connection between Dolly Parton and Rhiannon Giddens.

The CCD were such an amazing band. I will never forget their Merlefest appearance. I was blown away. And a lot of it was in the power of Ms. Giddens voice and playing.   "Tomorrow Is My Turn" goes on the "get asap" list.

Great article Kim!  Well written and lots of valuable background information.  I have really enjoyed the Carolina Chocolate Drops, particularly Rhiannon's stage performances.  She is a powerhouse on stage.  While the band provides such insight to music history, I did find Dom Flemons performances to be a little too over the top and too much showboating (while I didn't react that way to the rest of the band).  His comments in your article are interesting, maybe more for what wasn't said (by Dom and Rhiannon).  I think he realized her tremendous talents would outshine him and perhaps that caused him to try too hard.  Maybe it is best that he has taken his own show out on the road.  The last time I saw the band, a few years back, Taj Mahal was performing at the same festival, so it was interesting reading about the link to T-Bone Burnette (I'm a big fan of his music and agree with the comments about his golden touch as a producer).  I watched the New Basement Tapes documentary and really felt for Rhiannon in that gathering.  She really seemed uncomfortable, yet her voice was so important to that group.  I guess she was more comfortable working with T-Bone on the solo album.  I look forward to hearing it.

terrific article Kim, really enjoyed it.

Very nice piece, Kim!  Really fleshes out how she came to the point where this was the record she chose to make. And I'd guess/hope that this record is an inflection point in her career, if she wasn't already a rising star in her own right, this should be her lift off.  If it isn't I can't imagine what would be.

Every so often a record or a voice comes along and just stops me in my tracks.  In this case it was both at once.  Her voice is gorgeous and her use of it is virtuosic. The poppiest tune on the record is Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind and her singing on it is stunning among a record full of such moments. My 11 year old son has asked a few times this week if it's the only song I listen to. Smart ass, but observant. For a guy who likes Katie Perry, he sure seems to appreciate Waterboy. 


What a wonderful, in-depth article. I saw CCD last summer and will see Rhiannon next month so I've shared this with many of my friends. And I've signed up for your blog. I love your writing and attention to the details of musicianship. Thank you.

Thanks for the insights, Kim. I've only been listening to Giddens since last fall, when my wife got me Freedom Highway for my birthday, but she's already become one of my favorite singers. And now, thanks to your article, I think I can listen to "Waterboy" with a different set of ears.

Also, I've always loved the banjo, but thanks to Giddens's keynote address at the 2017 IBMA Business Conference, I believe I love it even more.