America’s Rhiannon Giddens is known as the lead singer, violinist, banjo player and founding member of the Grammy-winning country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops.
What she wasn’t known for up untiTl recently was her work as a solo artist, but that all changed at the Another Day Another Time concert inspired by the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis. Giddens gave the best performance at what was called the concert of the year. This was perhaps the turning point, where the world sat up and took notice of this extraordinarily gifted musician.
Giddens was surprised by the reaction.
‘I had no idea, I really didn’t. I have been in the Drops and this was my first time solo. Working with people I have never met, I was most focused on not screwing it up! I thought, let’s get this right! After the show I went back and started jamming backstage and then the reviews came out…
‘It was like holy moly! I didn’t know who was there reviewing. I wasn’t in the industry enough to even know who they were. I had been doing folk music and touring. I am really glad I didn’t know because I did what I was instinctually trained to do. I didn’t think about it, I just did what was in front of me and that’s pretty much my motto: do what is in front of me and whatever will happen will happen!’
It’s her understated approach that perhaps packs the biggest punch.
‘Someone said to me – a drama teacher actually – to never play the punchline. If you have a humorous line you want to deliver the audience knows when you are delivering, so you have to underplay it. The audience knows what is coming next but you can’t – you can’t know you have to be in the next moment and in the next. It keeps it fresh for you as well. You have to play the songs over and over and you have to find a way to make every show, even your 20th in a row.’
In 2015 Giddens released her debut solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn, produced by TBone Burnett, featuring songs made famous by Patsy Cline, Odetta, Dolly Parton and Nina Simone. The Wall Street Journal said of the album, ‘It confirms the arrival of a significant talent whose voice and distinctive approach communicate the simmering emotion at the core of the songs’. This sums up her approach. ‘When you do interpretations, it’s not covers – covers are a replication of an existing arrangement – we interpret a song, and take it somewhere new. It’s kind of an opportunity to say something about that song.’
It all happened very quickly for Giddens. ‘I had TBone saying we are going to do a record in the next three months; what is your dream record? I had a little list of songs, so I had to add to it – then I started research, looking for songs.’
Catch Rhiannon Giddens and her band at Bluesfest next year. For program and ticket information go to www.bluesfest.com.au.