Rhiannon Giddens, who just released her first solo album, “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” has a musical background as peculiar as they come. The Greensboro, North Carolina native studied opera at Oberlin Conservatory before joining the old-time string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005.
After winning a Grammy with the Drops for their critically-acclaimed album, “Genuine Negro Jig,” Giddens showed off her ability as a solo artist by contributing to “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes,” an album conceived of tracks featuring recently uncovered lyrics from Bob Dylan written in 1967.
For her first solo record, Giddens teamed up with Lost on the River producer T-Bone Burnett to create a sprawling collection of reimagined covers of legendary artists the likes of Patsy Cline, Hank Cochran and Dolly Parton.
When many listen to The Carolina Chocolate Drops, they may be surprised such a band is making music in the 21st century, and rightfully so. The old-time sound of the string band is steeped in the history of African-American heritage and sounds like that of another era. Giddens transfers that old-soul musicality to her record, but does enough to make it her own unique sound.
“Tomorrow Is My Turn” is carried by the expert craftsmanship of the music and the powerful voice of Giddens, whose soulful vocals and violent bellows anchor the record. The songs on the album are mellow and heartfelt, and the intricate strings and guitars of the record play well as the backdrop of the storytelling that goes on in these 11 tracks.
Spanning 52 minutes, the songs manage to touch many different corners of the Americana genre, from the warm, Gary Clark, Jr.-esque fuzz-guitar of the opener, “Last Kind Words,” to the 10-minute long folksy rendition of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree.”
One of the tracks that stands out from the others is “Black is the Color,” whose hip-hop drum beats add a new dimension to the record and shows that Giddens isn’t tethered to any certain sound.
The third track from the album, “Waterboy,” is a traditional folk song that dates back to the 1920s, and has been recorded by the likes of Odetta, Roland Hayes and Fats Waller. The song showcases Giddens’ powerful, emphatic vocals that have an almost R&B vibe to them.
Perhaps the highlight of the album is the track “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind,” a lively country tune originally recorded by Dolly Parton. In this song about a love ready to move on but isn’t sure how, she sings, “If you don’t love me, leave me/ and don’t let it trouble your mind.”
“Tommorow Is My Turn” is an album full of impressive moments, and it does justice to the songs that are covered on it. What this album proves is that Giddens is a more than capable musician on her own, and she will command respect from the music industry after this release.
Rhiannon Giddens may not be a household name, nor will she ever be heard on the radio after a One Direction song, but there is no doubt that she has stepped out strong on her first solo release.