Rhiannon Giddens “Freedom Highway”
I’ve never been a religious person but if I was to get behind a prophet, it would be Rhiannon Giddens.
She’s a prophet of these times, but with silken vocal cords and an easy musicality, she carefully plunders the depths of some of the more uncomfortable aspects of her country’s history.
The songs on the album move from gospel, to soul, to rap to alt-country so easily, and are all exalted by her controlled and soulful voice.
These are important songs with a message, but Giddens sings of her country’s past and present tragedies with a lightness, a playfulness and a soulfulness.
And she’s not afraid to add the old-school sexy sound of a muted trumpet nor let her banjo-playing do all the talking on Following the North. And she even leaves space for a bluesy guitar riff on Come Love Come.
This is Giddens’ second album as a solo artist, and one in which she’s truly found her way as a songwriter. She has co-written nine original tracks that feel like natural successors to the Staple Singers song Freedom Highway or the Civil Rights anthem Birmingham Sunday, both featured on this record.
Giddens’ songs speak of modern issues ‘Young man was a good man, yet they shot you anyway’ she intones on Better Get It Right the First Time, with a rap from her band member Justin Harrington.
She cleverly explores the African American experience from a history of slavery, civil rights to the issues faced today .
And she asks us to know our history, and to be both horrified and inspired by it.
But she does so with rich, clear and controlled vocals.
If only all history lessons sounded this good.