fri 19/07/2024

Album: Rhiannon Giddens - You're the One | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Rhiannon Giddens - You're the One

Album: Rhiannon Giddens - You're the One

Giddens serves up a great gumbo

A musical seeker

In late 2019, BC, another age, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi stepped on to a Southbank Centre stage and gave one of those mesmerising performances that forever stays in the memory.

In the three years or so since, Giddens has been given a clutch of awards, most recently a Pulitzer for her opera Omar. A musical seeker, her career is a journey of exploration through the highways and byways of American music and its intersections. All attempts at categorisation are rejected, Giddens seeing them – largely correctly – as a marketing tool. No doubt that’s why she remains at Nonesuch, an aways interesting label that respects artists’ integrity.

You’re the One is Giddens’ third solo album, her first in six years and the first for which she has composed all the material. Recorded with many of her closest musical collaborators, including Turrisi, her life-partner, plus multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell (part of Joan Baez’s final touring band), bassist Jason Sypher, and Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu, it’s a musical gumbo that features strings and horns, piano accordion and much besides, And it’s an album that runs the gamut. "I hope that people just hear American music”, Giddens has explained. "Blues, jazz, Cajun, country, gospel, and rock – it's all there. I like to be where it meets organically. They're fun songs, and I wanted them to have as much of a chance as they could to reach people who might dig them but don't know anything about what I do. If they're introduced to me through this record, they might go listen to other music I've made and make some new discoveries.”  

The most surprising track, to this reviewer at least, is “Who Are You Dreaming Of”, co-written with Powell, and a song that sounds as though it’s come straight out of the Great American Songbook and been arranged by Nelson Riddle. Indeed, I keep checking the album credits to make sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me! It’s a beautiful song beautifully sung (and it suggests that Giddens should at some point put her imprimatur on the GAS). The vocal is gorgeous, the portamento always tasteful, the melismata always assured, and the orchestration pitch-perfect. Credit to arranger Lester Snell.

You’re the One is a wonderfully varied album, “Dreaming” giving way to the old-timey knockabout of “Who Put the Sugar in My Bowl”, another Giddens-Powell number. “Way Over Yonder” feels like a Saturday night out in Louisiana, a Cajun/Zydeco fusion with wonderful fiddle and accordion redolent with the smell of fried chicken. “Too Little, Too Late” tips the hat to Aretha Franklin, Giddens and Powell, Aretha superfans, setting themselves the task of writing a song she herself might have sung. The opening banjo and fiddle of the next song, “You’re the One”, suggest down-home country but we’re immediately taken into something more poppy.

“Yet to Be”, like the story it tells, is Americana with an Irish accent, Jason Isbell adding a vocal.  “Wrong Kind of Right” is a slice of southern soul. There’s coiled, visceral anger in “Another Wasted Life”, the story of Kalief Browder, a young black man who hanged himself having been imprisoned without trial in the hell of Rikers Island. It’s a chilling song, introduced by effects suggesting the electric chair and built around a sequence of relentlessly repeated chords over which an organ screams and Giddens half speaks, half sings a powerful and concise lyric about “institutional caprice”.

Whatever the story, Rhiannon Giddens is a supreme teller. 

Giddens should at some point put her imprimatur on the Great American Songbook


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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