Rhiannon Giddens is best known as the singer and multi-instrumentalist who is a member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. With that group, she delves into the folk music of African-American culture. For Tomorrow Is My Turn, her first solo album, Giddens branches out into songs that would not fit into the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ theme. These songs embrace folk, gospel, jazz, country and blues, and most were were written or famously interpreted by women.
Each song on this album is special and each song illuminates the superior quality of Giddens’ voice. She can easily be compared favorably to artists like Nina Simone, Barbara Streisand, or Lena Horne for the clarity and range of her vocals. Add the superior production by the legendary T Bone Burnett and you know you have something very special.
The album begins with “The Last Kind Words,” a soul-scorching blues song by a female blues singer named Geeshie Wiley, which Wiley recorded in the 1930s. It is a fiery start, and engages the listener right away. Giddens follows that song with a deeply emotional version of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind.”
Next is “Waterboy,” which is a traditional folk song which lets Giddens show she can handle a harder, harsher sound. Just to prove how versatile this singer is, it is followed by the heartbreaking “She’s Got You,” written by Hank Cochran but most famously done by Patsy Cline. It takes a very special talent and voice to equal Cline’s rendition but Giddens does it here.
The rendition of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head” will take you to church and make you glad to be there. Giddens catches all the joy and passion that Tharpe’s original version held and just makes you want to jump and shout!
The title song of the album, “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” is just a revelation. As with Cline earlier, it is not easy to equal Simone, but Giddens does it here. It is a beautiful jazz ballad, and perfectly rendered. On an album full of wonders, this song is the highlight for this reviewer. Most women will identify with the mixture of sadness, defiance and hope in this tune, perfectly reflected in the vocal.
The next song, “Black Is the Color,” is a very old folk song given a completely unexpected but effective update here with a much more contemporary-sounding arrangement. This is the right way to breathe new vitality into a familiar song without losing the integrity of the original. It is followed by another go-to-church number which was most famously recorded by The Kingston Trio, “Round About the Mountain.” Giddens’ version has much more fire and passion than that recording and turns this song into the best kind of gospel number. For contrast, she then turns playful and teasing with Elizabeth Cotton’s delightful “Shake Sugaree.”
“O Love Is Teasin’” returns to traditional Appalachian folk music. It was brought to public attention by “Mother of folk” Jean Ritchie and its plaintive tone and message are perfectly suited to Giddens’ beautiful voice.
“Angel City,” the only original tune written by Giddens, rounds the album out. It is perhaps not quite as strong as the other material but is still more than worthy of a listen.
Welcome Rhiannon Giddens to the ranks of memorable solo female artists!
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