“The whole idea is to remind people that there’s just more to the story of American music. That’s what we’ve done from the beginning with the [Carolina Chocolate] Drops,” Rhiannon Giddens told INDY Week this spring, talking then about a performance with the North Carolina Symphony.
These days, she’s the leader and lone original member of the Durham-based Drops, perhaps the best known black string band in existence. Past members—Dom Flemons, Justin Robinson, Leyla McCalla—have subsequently released records that further the collective’s excavation of forgotten American sounds. The breadth of their work demonstrates the links that connect blues and bluegrass, hip-hop and country, jazz and rock, all of them shaped in large part by talented black hands.
Come next year, Giddens takes her own well-deserved turn in the spotlight. On February 10, Nonesuch Records releases Tomorrow Is My Turn, the singer’s solo debut. Produced by the revered T Bone Burnett—who’s worked with luminaries like Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, in addition to spearheading soundtracks for movies such as Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou?—the record throws Giddens’ warm warble at songs made famous by artists as diverse Patsy Cline and Nina Simone, who sang the tune that gives the collection its title.
More than any member of the extended Drops family, Giddens excels at drawing varied styles into her own singular aesthetic—not so much normalizing them as highlighting similarities that were already present. The first two cuts available from Tomorrow put this talent in sharp relief. Tackling the Dolly Parton break-up tune “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind,” her voice is bright and carefree, finding newfound freedom where Dolly found loneliness. With Elizabeth Cotten’s “Shake Sugaree,” she takes a similar approach, turning the Carrboro-born blues and folk singer’s understated hymn into a confident declaration.
Both of Giddens’ renditions glide gracefully, smoothed by earnest pedal steel and pricked by playful fiddle. They benefit from a backing ensemble that included members of Punch Brothers and a team of studio veterans. Sounding at once modern and timeless, the style should prove a fitting backdrop for Giddens’ far-reaching selections.
Tomorrow Is My Turn:
1. Last Kind Words (Geeshie Wiley, arr. Rhiannon Giddens)
2. Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind (Dolly Parton)
3. Waterboy (Jacques Wolfe)
4. She’s Got You (Hank Cochran)
5. Up Above My Head (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)
6. Tomorrow Is My Turn (Charles Aznavour/Marcel Stellman/Yves Stéphane)
7. Black Is the Color (Traditional, arr. Rhiannon Giddens)
8. Round About the Mountain (Traditional, arr. Roland Hayes)
9. Shake Sugaree (Elizabeth Cotten)
10. O Love Is Teasin’ (Traditional, arr. Rhiannon Giddens)
11. Angel City (Rhiannon Giddens)