Rhiannon Giddens last appearance at Whelan’s was in October 2012 when she fronted old time African American and Grammy winning string band Carolina Chocolate Drops.She is back a gain in the wake of her T-Bone Burnett produced debut solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn. “Thirty seven years of age and T-Bone Burnett offers to produce a solo album for you, you don’t say no’’ she noted.
Her band is made of Caroline Chocolate Drop members Hubby Jenkins (guitar, mandolin, banjo and bones), Rowan Corbett (guitar, bones, snare drum) and Malcolm Parson (cello). Jason Sypher (bass) and James Dick (drums) complete the line up. Giddens’ classical vocal training is in evidence throughout the ninety minutes where she showcases her solo album combined with songs from both Carolina Chocolate Drop albums and the New Basement Tapes project.
Together with her backing band she delivers an exceptional night’s entertainment moving between old time country, gospel, jazz, folk and traditional music to a hugely enthusiastic audience. Opening with Spanish Mary from the Basement Tapes album Giddens announces, tongue in cheek, that she wrote the song with Bob Dylan fifty years ago. Setting the scene for the evening with her stunning vocal and relaxed stage presence she continues by explaining how the project was conceived and her initial awe in the presence of T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello. “Only one in the group with ovaries’’ she playfully adds.
Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind follows with Giddens acknowledging the song writing talents of Dolly Parton “one of the best female songwriters of all time.” A superb version of She’s Got You, in tribute to Patsy Cline is next before upping the tempo with Shake Sugaree and Waterboy to the delight of the engaged audience. Giddens relaxed stage manner and ability to engage and captivate her audience are very evident throughout the show. She explains that she is married to an Irish man resulting in half the year being spent in Ireland and the other half in The States and that her eldest daughter is enrolled in the local gaelscoil in Limerick. “She and her father talk in Irish and I haven’t got an idea what they are saying. Don’t suppose many of you would understand them either.’’
One of the many highlights of the evening was a stunning a cappella of the traditional song Factory Girl. Giddens notes that she has rearranged the lyrics on the last verse and will be including the song later in the year on an EP of material that did not make the final cut on her solo album.
She finishes her set with the barn dance, knees up Dylan penned Duncan and Jimmy to rapturous applause and demands for encores.Giddens returns to the stage accompanied only by Parson on cello and Sypher on bass and delivers a spine tingling rendition of Angel City, the closing track on her album. The second encore, with her full band returning to the stage, is the African American folk song The Lonesome Road immediately followed by Up Above My Head. A rousing finale to a superb evening’s entertainment.
Give the direction the exceptionally talented Rhiannon Giddens career is heading it is highly unlikely that her next gig in Dublin will be in a venue as intimate as Whelan’s. All the better for those of us fortunate to have been present.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton