Album Review – Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

 

Rhiannon Giddens is probably best known for her stint in the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Freedom Highway is her second solo album.

And what an album it is. Riding on top of a plethora of banjo licks, mixed in with a dose of soul, funk, and R&B, Giddens’ powerful gives life to stories of black in America from the opening track based on a  slave’s diary to the eponymous closing track, which is a cover of the classic Staples Singers song.

To be perfectly honest, I am enamored of this album and have a hard time envisioning that a better folk album will be released this year. Like all albums I listen to, I have my favorite tracks (in this case, the beautifully rendered Birmingham Sunday, the aspirational We Could Fly, and the explosively sung Come Love Come). But I don’t really think there is a bad track on this album, and I do think it benefits from full listening. There’s a story here, for the people who want to hear it. And Giddens own songs, as well as the tracks she chooses to cover, do a great job of telling it.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Birmingham Sunday, We Could Fly, Come Love Come, At the Purchaser’s Option

Tracks I would Thumbs down: none

Song Spotlight – Like Rock & Roll and Radio – Ray LaMontagne

Remember when Borders was still around, back before the corporate money people drove them into bankruptcy and non-existence? They used to have concerts at some of their stores and record them and put them on the internet. Not just little tiny acts either.

This is a great performance with Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs.

Song Spotlight: My Father’s Father – Civil Wars

This was the first Civil Wars song I heard. I loved it and the Civil WArs quickly became one of my favorite groups. Sadly, they fell to internal strife, as befits their name. Still, Bartons Hallow and The Civil Wars are two albums that I return to regularly.

Song Spotlight: Elysium – Bear’s Den

If you hadn’t figured it out by looking at my favorites list, or some of the other song spotlights, I have a fondness for neo-folk bands, especially those with unusual instrumentation.

I actually discovered Bear’s Den relatively recently, while wandering around at random on YouTube and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of theirs. I like the play of the trumpet against the guitars and banjo here. They could use a little more dynamic range, but it’s a pretty song and I enjoyed it.

Album Review: Ron Pope & The Nighthawks – Ron Pope & The Nighthawks

I’ve listened to Ron Pope off and on for several years. I like his Americana roots sound and I think he’s at his best singing over a single guitar in front of a crowd.

Ron Pope & The Nighthawks was released on January 8, 2016. It’s his first album with his new band, after a decade long solo career. Ain’t No Angel is the first single off the album. Videos for Bad Intentions and Hotel Room have been released as well.

I wanted to like this album a lot more than I did. There is some really nice Americana/folk pop on this album . I loved tracks like Hotel Room and Lies and Cigarettes. But then I get hit with songs that I really don’t like, like Bad Intentions.

Also, I felt like Pope hit kind of a rut at some point when writing this album. It felt like there were too many references to cocaine, to the point where I started wondering if this was a Johnny Paycheck album.

Overall, this is a stream it album for me. I’m going to take the songs I like and put them in a playlist and revisit the ones I don’t like again in six months to a year and see if I still feel that way.

 

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a Playlist For: Hotel Room, Lies and Cigarettes, Leave You Behind, Take Me Home

Clunkers I will thumbs down: Bad Intentions, Ain’t No Angel