Rhiannon Giddens: Town Hall 9 April 2015

One of the most glorious voices in our time singing at the magnificent Town Hall.

The crowd was very white Upper West Side. At Carolina Chocolate Drops’ performances I usually see more blacks in the audience. I also noticed that there was a very elaborate set-up for the lights and I was afraid it would overwhelm the singing.

Opening act was Sri Lankan singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman, who rtb and I have seen open for other acts. He’s a favorite of ours. (Mrs. Devereaux was also with us for this show.) Bhiman played new songs from his new album – most had a decidedly political bent. There were no covers, which was disappointing since he’s a good interpreter of others’ songs. He did end with “Guttersnipe” from his last cd. I kept hearing a cello/bass line in the song despite the fact that it was only Bhiman on acoustic guitar and he strums with a pick. It must have been something about the acoustics in the hall – I liked it.

Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops performed with the band (Hubby Jenkins – guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass drum; Rowan Corbett – guitar, bones, cajon, banjo; and Malcolm Parson – cello, melodica) plus an upright bass player (Jason Sypher), drummer (Jamie Dick), and two back-up singers. Giddens played banjo and fiddle in addition to singing.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops started out as a black string band playing American roots music. All the original members got their moments to shine and a lot of the songs were instrumental. But you cannot deny the power that is Giddens and she is now listed as the lead singer of the band (in addition to being the only original member). I needn’t worried about the stage lights – Giddens’ vocals danced above and around them.

When CCD performed for Another Day, Another Time, Giddens performed a Gaelic wedding song and a dance song. Her singing not only stole the show but it impressed T-Bone Burnett enough that he wanted to do a solo album with her. Most of the songs she performed last night were from that cd and there were others from Lost in the River: The New Basement Tapes, a compilation of Dylan songs with music rewritten by other artists. She started the show with “Spanish Mary” and “Hidee Hidee Ho #16.” Giddens ended the show with special guest Marcus Mumford and their rendition of “Lost in the River #20.” In between we heard the Gaelic song, songs made famous by Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline (“She’s Got You”), Odetta (“Water Boy”), and Nina Simone. Familiar songs like “Black is the Color” received totally new arrangements.

Jenkins sang a gospel song and CCD performed one number by themselves without Giddens. Before the encore the Giddens and the band played an instrumental, which was the oldest song they knew and then played the newest song they knew, which was “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”

Rhiannon Giddens’ voice is a national treasure.

By Carene Lydia Lopez