Rhiannon Giddens first appeared on my radar on the TV show “Nashville,” where she plays Hallie Jordan. Like so many of the musicians appearing on that show, she immediately struck me as very talented, but there was something a little bit extra special about her. I’m not typically a fan of fast vibrato, but Giddens’ not only didn’t bother me, it kept me coming back for more. I realized it’s because her voice sounds like it’s from another time.
Primarily known as the lead singer, violinist, banjo player and a founding member of the Grammy-winning country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens just dropped her second solo album, “Freedom Highway,” and it’s an absolute joy. The album is an exploration of the complicated, convoluted relationships people of African descent have with the history of slavery, with white America, and even with banjo music.
“This instrument right here, born in Africa, but then made in America and then altered by white America — that’s the story of so much of our music.”
Giddens had a beautiful interview with NPR about the album. I really recommend you give it a read when you have the time.
This is a brilliant version of one of my all-time favorite songs:
Giddens did a powerful Ted talk, too:
And here’s a live session with the Carolina Chocolate Drops: