Driving folk, human trumpet: Rhiannon Giddens wows at The Egg

Rhiannon Giddens, in her solo show, featured current Carolina Chocolate Drops stalwarts Hubby Jenkin
Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens

Categories: Entertainment

Wow, at least.

Even those who may have found the Carolina Chocolate Drops a cute if narrow antique show of folkloric sounds were totally leveled on Tuesday by the band’s frontwoman, Rhiannon Giddens, in The Egg’s sold-out Swyer Theatre.

Billed as a Giddens solo show, it featured current CCD stalwarts Hubby Jenkins, Malcolm Parson and Rowan Corbett, plus bassist Jason Sypher and drummer Jamie Dick. Their 85 minutes on stage were, in every sense, the Carolina Chocolate Drops Plus.

Giddens’ discovery by producer T Bone Burnett at an all-star New York City folk revue led to a solo album she hadn’t sought but proved fully prepared to deliver. Most of Tuesday’s tunes came from her “Tomorrow Is My Turn” album, but the title is too modest: Her turn is right now.

“Spanish Mary” began in a driving folk mode, banjos chiming, rhythm section grooving. Then Giddens went country with “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” (Dolly Parton) and “She’s Got You” (Hank Cochran), then old-bluesy on “Shake Sugaree (Elizabeth Cotten) and in human trumpet mode with the field holler “Waterboy,” all from “Tomorrow” and all over the musical map.

She turned her ace band loose on some black-face minstrel antiques before updating into the forceful folk ballad “O, Love is Teasin’ ” and the downhome cookin’ of “Black is the Color,” both from “Tomorrow,” before another venture into CCD chestnuts: the bluesy “Ruby,” Jenkins’ gruff vocal take on Leadbelly’s paean to black cowboys and a stirring instrumental romp, with Giddens watching from the back of the stage.

She took over to give “Tomorrow Is My Turn” a torchy, slow-swing jazz treatment with great cello from Parson, Tuesday’s top soloist. Her original slave-era blues “Come, Love Come” was deep soul, then she followed with a spry Gaelic dance, all light and zip. She closed with the hoedown “Duncan and Jimmy” before an all-Elizabeth Cotten encore, spiced with an uptempo stop and go fiddle romp coda.

Giddens played clawhammer banjo or fiddle, or just her voice, while expert riffs swirled around her. She acknowledged resisting drums and bass through old-timey purism before giving Sypher and Dick major (well-deserved) props for flexible, springy beats.

Jenkins played guitar, banjo and bones, as did Corbett, while Parson set aside his standup cello only to play melodica on “Black is the Color.” The band had strength at every position, on whatever instrument Giddens’ songs demanded.

But her clear, strong and strategically nuanced voice could have carried the show with almost any band, or none. In this overwhelming vocal showcase, she spanned 1850s Piedmont blues to modern country and jazz, singing true to their times but performing with such accessible immediacy that everything felt fresh as tomorrow.

The opener, solo troubadour Bhi Bhiman, is the son of Sri Lankan immigrants to the Midwest. He sang activist songs of dislocation, oppression and liberation, his powerful voice giving wings to words of powerful passion.

Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

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