Saturday 16 December 2017

Review: Rhiannon Giddens at Whelans

Rhiannon Williams
Rhiannon Williams

"We started off with Spanish Mary that I co-wrote with Bob Dylan 50 years ago." Rhiannon Giddens there, issuing the first of several wisecracks.

Vocalist, banjo player and a dab hand at the violin, Giddens reckons it's the talking bit that lets her down. She's being modest.

A founding member of the Grammy award-winning country and blues ensemble, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the North Carolina talent is still getting used to the solo thing.

Actually, there is no such thing as a solo artist, she argues (there are six musicians on stage). But it's the album she recorded with producer extraordinaire T Bone Burnett (the warmly received Tomorrow is My Turn) that changed the landscape for good. Tonight, she recalls working with Elvis Costello and a Mumford.

It's nothing compared to Giddens' stories about her second home (she relocated to Limerick several years back, starting a family with her Irish musician husband). And yes, that is Barry's Tea in her cup.

Later, we'll get our Gaelic stomp on. But first, a journey through American roots. An amiable Giddens breathes new life into a Dolly Parton classic (Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind) and evokes the spirit of Patsy Cline.

On the transcendent Water Boy, Giddens proves that that far-reaching voice of hers is not of this time. She uses it as a proper instrument; its astonishing power is that of a confident performer that knows her history (most of Giddens' act involves the art of reinterpreting the greats) and how to hit us hard (Giddens a cappella is a mighty force indeed).

The instrumental sweeps - cello, double bass, guitar and bones - are beguiling; the various hoedowns and delicate country numbers are rich in texture and skill.

Giddens doesn't play bluegrass - this is old-time music courtesy of a contemporary icon.

"There's a pop singer that kind of ruined my life with her umbrellas," she jokes. "I was here first!" Forget about tomorrow - today is Rhiannon Giddens' turn.

Rating ****

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