Almost ten years ago I went searching for an African American folk band. I was looking for alternatives, in general, to my existing diet of Metal, Hip Hop, and Lounge. I’d been into Bluegrass for a while, but mostly the much older stuff and while there was a lot of it to take in, I didn’t find the variety I was looking for. This led me on a much longer quest and into a much deeper rabbit hole that included Zydeco, and Folk. Eventually, I came across a band called “The Carolina Chocolate Drops”, a folk band from North Carolina. At the time they only had one album, and it ended up saving my quest for new music. Rhiannon Giddens is one of the founding members of the group” who, in 2010 won a Grammy for their album “Genuine Negro Jig”.
They have since produced 7 albums and a few of their members have even gone on to have successful solo careers, Giddens being among them. When I came across her other album, released earlier this year, “Songs of our Native Daughters” I admit I didn’t make the connection between her and The Chocolate Drops, right away. Nevertheless, I was blown away by her voice and skills with a banjo. When I heard she had another album coming out, I scoured the internet to see if I could hear a bit of it and I finally found it in March on NPR’s “First Listen”
“There is no other” is her latest album and a statement about the otherizing of marginalized groups and it meshes with Giddens’ apparent vision. One of the great things about the messages in this album is the concentric layers of it that seem to be present in both the vocals and the instrumentals. By incorporating musical styles from around the world, she is drawing a clear commonality among all people, with music. It was interesting to hear that banjo at the top of all the arrangements and I was amazed to hear how well it blended with the other instruments, further enhancing Giddens’ message and reinforcing in my mind how rare of a talent she possesses.
But the whole point of the album for us was Giddens’ sublime voice and preternatural gift with the banjo and the viola. There was an American folk and country feel with beautiful Mediterranean instrumentals running beneath it all. The addition of these instruments was no doubt the work of her collaborator on the album Francesco Turrisi, a multi-instrumental Jazz musician. I was particularly pleased because Giddens' journey and growth as a musician is so clearly mapped in her work. By engaging with other forms of music and attempting such an ambitious melding of musical styles and origins, it was clear she wanted to deliver something entirely new. And she did. The album is out on May 3rd and it is highly recommended.
As stated above, the album in its entirety is available to listen to on NPR here. And once again, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to support these artists by going to iTunes or whichever platform you prefer and paying to download the album.