TITLE: Tomorrow is My Turn

ARTIST: Rhiannon Giddens

LABEL: Nonesuch


By Steve Goldfield

giddens-tomorrow-is-my-turnIn case you were wondering whether Rhiannon Giddens has one of the great singing voices of our time, her new solo CD will answer that question. If you had not been wondering, it means that you probably have not heard her sing. T-Bone Burnett, who produced this collection of eleven songs, places her in a musical geneology ranging through Marian Anderson, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, and Rosetta Tharpe. I certainly would not disagree that she belongs in a group of powerful African-American women, but that only begins to describe Giddens and her music. I first encountered her as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, in which she had also absorbed the old-time music of fiddler Joe Thompson, who had mentored the group. Giddens played banjo and fiddle in the band. It also comes as no surprise to read that she studied opera at Oberlin Conservatory.

For this CD, Giddens has selected a very diverse group of songs, recorded in her own unique arrangements, and one original, Angel City. The musicians who back her up are a very large group, which includes Dennis Crouch on bass, Mike Compton on mandolin, T-Bone Burnett on guitar, Gabe Witcher on fiddle and guitar, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Mike Bubb on bass, and many others. Most of the recording was done in Hollywood and Los Angeles, with one cut recorded in Nashville.

The CD opens with the Geeshie Wiley song, Last Kind Words. Giddens' version is simultaneously faithful to the original and her own interpretation for a time 85 years later. Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind comes from Dolly Parton, and Giddens makes that one her own, too, in the setting of a country arrangement. The introductory part of Waterboy is an almost a capella tour de force (after Odetta's version) which suddenly morphs into an equally rhythmic but more subtly complex and lyrical arrangement. Hank Cochran's She's Got You was one of Patsy Cline's great hits. Giddens' version is a bit smoother and more jazzy. I was reminded a bit of the Pointer Sisters and wondered if she has considered recording Fairytale. Next up is Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Up Above My Head. Like Tharpe, Giddens is backed up by a large chorus. Giddens adds swing to the gospel. The title cut is a soft and subtle mood piece from Nina Simone (French singer Charles Aznavour of Shoot the Piano Player was one of its coauthors). Giddens more than does it justice. Black is the Color has a kind of funk arrangement with a blues harmonica, but she pulls it off. Round About the Mountain is another traditional piece. Shake Sugaree is Giddens' homage to Elizabeth Cotton, complete with the Cotton-picking guitar. O Love is Teasin' likely comes from the singing of Jean Ritchie; it definitely suits the high pure and sweet range of Giddens' voice but her power comes through, too. In the last number, Angel City, written by Giddens, we get to hear how she interprets her own song. Friends, this recording is a keeper.

Rhiannon Giddens performs “Waterboy” live on “The Late Show with David Letterman”

Steve Goldfield is a board member and Old-Time Music Coordinator for the California Bluegrass Association. He also writes for Fiddler Magazine, Bluegrass Unlimited, and the Old-Time Herald.