New Music Monday: Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens Artist Photo

Rhiannon Giddens artRhiannon Giddens released Tomorrow Is My Turn, one of the best albums of 2015, early in the year. Earlier this month the singer for Carolina Chocolate Drops released a follow-up EP, Factory Girl, containing tracks that were recorded during the Tomorrow sessions, but which did not make it onto the album. With that in mind, New Music Monday is taking a slight detour this week and focusing on both of Rhiannon Giddens’ releases from 2015.

Produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, Tomorrow Is My Turn and Factory Girl both consist mainly of Giddens’ reinterpretations of artists who heavily influenced her, ranging from Dolly Parton (“Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind”) to Nina Simone (the title track). Cover songs, and albums in particular, pose a tricky problem for artists; stray too far from the original and the essence of the song is lost, change too little and the question of why record the cover at all arises. Giddens walks that tightrope spectacularly. Her rendition of “She’s Got You,” for example, keeps the song’s tempo slow and smoothly incorporates an upright bass.

The story behind the recording of Tomorrow and Factory Girl is that Rhiannon Giddens came onstage near the end of a T Bone Burnett-curated tribute to early ’60s folk music and stole the show with her powerful take on Odetta’s “Waterboy.” At intermission, Burnett immediately went backstage and offered to produce her solo debut. From there it was not long before the sessions for Tomorrow Is My Turn came together.

As a founding member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens is no stranger to performing and arranging songs written by others because the band play a combination of original and traditional material. She had, however, been amassing songs she wanted to interpret from artists she wanted to acknowledge, many of which did not fit CCD’s sound. The sessions with Burnett proved an ideal ground for these ideas. Giddens sent the list to Burnett who was on board immediately. Giddens says of working with Burnett, “[h]e sets the table with a fine linen tablecloth, beautiful dishes, silver urns, everything is top notch, but you have to bring the food.”

Bring the food she did. Tomorrow Is My Turn is one of the strongest albums of 2015, and Giddens’ follow-up EP, Factory Girl, is a testament to how many great songs she recorded for the album. It is a shame that the tracks from Factory Girl did not make it onto Tomorrow, but the EP release is much more than just leftover songs.

Rhiannon Giddens’ album and EP are both out now on Nonesuch Records and available through Amazon (Factory Girl), iTunes (Factory Girl), and Nonesuch.