When: Wed., Aug. 9, 8 p.m. 2017
Even if Rhiannon Giddens had never done anything other than help to front The Carolina Chocolate Drops, her place in the roots music kingdom would have been assured. The Chocolate Drops' mission was to reclaim the African-American stake in traditional folk and string-band music, all the while shifting between faithful evocations of the old-school styles and updates that incorporated all manner of modern modes without betraying the essential intent of the tunes.
The band found both commercial and aesthetic success, but Giddens ultimately decided she had something more to give than being a singer and multi-instrumentalist—she's more or less capable of playing any damn thing with strings on it—in the band. It doesn't seem that any official statement of dissolution for the Chocolate Drops has ever been issued, but after the tour for the band's 2012 album, Leaving Eden, Giddens decided to strike out on her own.
With Giddens's first solo record, 2015's Tomorrow Is My Turn, we began to learn just how much we didn't know about her talents, no matter how closely we might have followed her previous work. Besides dipping into folk, blues, and gospel sources, she unveiled a knack for tossing jazz, country, and more into her potent cocktail. The world duly stood up and took notice.
Earlier this year, Giddens unleashed her follow-up album, Freedom Highway, an outing that upped the artistic ante even further. While her interpretive powers were certainly no secret by this point, Giddens emerged as a striking songwriter this time around. Though she made space for a few covers of Mississippi John Hurt, Richard Farina, and The Staple Singers, her own tunes dominated the album. If she wasn't fully regarded as Americana royalty before, she undoubtedly earned that status on the strength of her second solo statement.
Will Giddens keep pursuing the singer-songwriter route? Will she revert to a more interpretive approach? Will she wind up reuniting with her old bandmates, either for good or for one last go-round? No one knows, but none of that is important at the moment. All you really need to concern yourself with is the fact that Giddens is at the top of her game. —Jim Allen