Carolina Chocolate Drops lead vocalist Rhiannon Giddens has one of the most distinctive voices in folk music, and this is showcased in her debut solo album, helmed by famed producer T-Bone Burnett, who wanted to work with Giddens after her stand-out performances during the concert celebrating the music of the film Inside Llewyn Davis, which Burnett curated.
The album’s standout track is the part a cappella/part blues stomper “Waterboy,” originally by Odetta. There’s an ominous tone throughout as Giddens threatens the waterboy with retribution. Giddens recently performed the track on Late Show with David Letterman and drew an awestruck reaction.
The rest of the record is similarly fantastic. In Giddens’ hands, Dolly Parton’s “Don’t let it Trouble your Mind” is transformed into a Joan Baez-esque folk song. Sister Rosetta Tharp’s spiritual “Up Above my Head” is turned into a rockabilly/gospel hybrid, which is a rave-up from start to finish and features some great guitar work, and “She’s Got You” does Patsy Cline proud. “Black is the Color” and “Shake Sugaree” have elements much more familiar to Giddens, featuring folk instruments and percussion. The final track, “Angel City,” is the only original song on the album and is a pleasing folk track which could have had a place on the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis.
The album was clearly created by Burnett and Giddens as a showcase for Giddens’ voice, and by and large it succeeds. It will be intriguing to see if she performs more original material on her next album, but for a debut album this is well worth a listen.