herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

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The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a vibrant old-timey jug band that's been around for almost a decade.

As their popularity expanded beyond the folk and bluegrass scene, it became obvious that singer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens was a special talent.

Two years ago her solo performance in a concert to celebrate the music from the film Inside Llewyn Davis sealed the deal. On a bill that featured Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Marcus Mumford and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists among others, Giddens brought the house down.

Producer T Bone Burnett, who curated the show, isn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He offered his services as producer, but these 11 tracks aren't the first output of their collaboration.

Burnett also involved Giddens in the recording project that saw a team of musicians compose and record music for a folio of Bob Dylan lyrics that had lain untouched since 1967. Her playing and vocals are among the highlights of Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes.

Giddens is no street urchin. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, she studied opera and thoroughly researched the old folk music traditions that fuelled jazz and blues.

The repertoire covered on her solo debut is wide-ranging. Cleverly, Giddens has employed a conceptual device that enables traditional material to sit comfortable alongside songs by Dolly Parton, Hank Cochran and her own composition, Angel City.

The title track, Tomorrow Is My Turn ("No more doubts, no more fears") is a song Nina Simone took from Charles Aznavour and passionately made famous in 1965. Nina's version had a huge impact on Giddens.

"I began to think about the struggle of her and women like her," she says. "Other songs started getting on my list and they were all by women or interpreted by women."

The distance between Gidden's sophisticated version of this and the old work-gang song Waterboy, written by a Romanian immigrant, is stylishly covered by a voice that has grown more expressive and more intimate over the last few years.

The old folk classic Black is the Colour, familiar to Irish audiences through versions by The Corrs, Christy Moore and Brian McFadden, is given a funky street corner twist with a hip-hop beat.

Elizabeth Cotten was 94 when she died in 1987. An American blues and folk singer who achieved global popularity during the folk revival in the 1960s, Cotten is best known for her songs Freight Train and Shake Sugaree. Gidden's honey-voiced version of Shake Sugaree, a song covered by Taj Mahal and, in concert, Bob Dylan, is a pure delight

Patsy Cline's tearjerker She's Got You could be a crossover hit. HHHHI

Tomorrow Is My Time (Nonesuch)

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