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Archive for the ‘Rhiannon Giddens’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RHIANNON GIDDENS-Tiny Desk Concert #890 (September 16, 2019).

I have been aware of Rhiannon Giddens for some time.  I knew she played the banjo, but I didn’t know much else about her.  I saw her (as part of an ensemble) at the Newport Folk Festival.

For some reason I was sure that she had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but evidently not.  Maybe I watched this when it came out?  That doesn’t seem right either.

So I’ll stop thinking about it and write about this Tiny Desk Concert instead.

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit.

Giddens is a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (and Our Native Daughters, who played at Newport), an old-timey string band.  But for this Tiny Desk Concert, she is accompanied by upright bass (Jason Sypher) and a whole bunch of other instruments played by Francesco Turrisi.

Giddens and Turrisi had recently collaborated on an album which World Cafe Live describes:

While Rhiannon’s work has focused on the influence of African traditions on what we think of as American music, Francesco is an expert in the often unacknowledged influence of Arabic and Middle Eastern music on what we think of as European sound. They found common ground in their quest to dispel false cultural narratives and turned it into gorgeous music on a new collaborative album called there is no Other.

For the first song, Turrisi plays banjo (although this one looks different from a typical banjo) while Giddens sings and Sypher adds deep slow resonating bass notes.

“Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade.

The combination of Giddens’ lyrics with Turrisi’s middle-eastern sounding banjo is wonderfully compelling.

She explains that the second song, “At the Purchaser’s Option”

was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control.

That is a pretty intense introduction and inspiration for a song.

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Turrisi switches to piano which really changes the texture of the music. Sypher plucks the strings on this songs which gives it a bit more of a “song” feel than a “composition” feel.  The chorus is also memorable both for the melody and the powerful lyrics.

My favorite track is the third one, “I’m On My Way.”

Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

While Turrisi is certainly an excellent banjo player, it’s great to hear Giddens play as well.  Especially this fascinating fretless banjo.  Turrisi plays the frame drum–different from an Irish bodhran in that it seems to have snares in it.  The plucked bass along with the addition of percussion and the great banjo melody are just fantastic. When Sypher switches to bowing, for a solo, it adds a whole new dimension–especially when he slides all the way up the neck to get the highest note possible.

T final song is the gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”  Giddens puts down the banjo again (awww).

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.”

[READ: July 3, 2019] “Stuart”

I love the way that this story unfolded.  It begins in one location and moves only a few blocks by the end.  But the kicker is that it starts with one character and ends with someone else.  It read kind of like an early David Foster Wallace story.

The story opens by telling us about two Greek immigrants working at a hot dog truck.  They are described in vivid (rather unflattering) detail.  While they get their food ready, three teenage boys walk up.  They are pretty much identical except for the color of their shirts  She describes them vividly as well.

They have man-sized hands sprouting from elongated, spindly limbs like the extremities of flamingos, and their feet are so huge they might be prehensile.  There’s nothing in the backside of their immense, baggy jeans.

They boys order hot dogs and ask for them quickly “before they fucking catch up with us, eh?” (more…)

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