Former Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens matches her potential on her second solo album.
Freedom Highway is part protest, part celebration of America’s diversity and part repudiation of its checkered racial history.
It’s old-timey music and folk. It’s New Orleansian jazz and acoustic blues and gospel and funk. It’s mostly originals and two well-chosen covers that include solo vocal showcases, layers of harmony vocals, a bit of rapping and an instrumental in the form of “Following the North Star.”
It’s banjo and spoons and piano and organ and guitar and drums and fiddle and mandolin and horns and much more. It’s 240 years of American history condensed into 55 minutes of magnificent music
Soaring over all of it is Giddens’ remarkable voice, a voice that climbs high, dips low and embodies the divergent cast of characters she presents over Freedom Highway’s 12 tracks. On them, Giddens addresses slavery (“At the Purchaser’s Option.” “Come Love Come” and “Julie”), the Civil Rights Movement (“Birmingham Sunday” and the title track), Black Lives Matter (“Better Get it Right the First Time”), the joy and sorrow of relationships (“Hey Bébé,” “The Love We Almost Had” ) and the wonder of spirituality (“We Could Fly,” “Baby Boy”).
Anyone who’s followed Giddens’ career over the years knew she had a spectacular album in her.
Freedom Highway is that album.