by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for Folk Alley
Sometimes, a voice comes along at the exact moment in history that it very much needs to be heard. Though Rhiannon Giddens first stepped up to the mic as part of the Sankofa Strings and Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005, it’s on her truly stunning new album, ‘Freedom Highway,’ that she truly finds her voice and offers it to the voiceless so that we may, perhaps, finally hear them.
Throughout the song cycle, Giddens inhabits and interpolates various characters from across Black history. There’s the young slave girl in “At the Purchaser’s Option” who clings to herself and the child born from, presumably, a master’s rape. There are the four young victims immortalized in Richard FariÃ±a’s “Birmingham Sunday” about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan. There’s the man who represents far too many shot by police for [insert action here] while Black in “Better Get It Right the First Time.”
While many of the threads Giddens weaves together here represent victims, there is a palpable defiance in each strand. The fists of these characters aren’t clinched for revenge; they are raised in power and in solidarity. Their gaze is focused not on their oppressors, but on the justice that looms out on the distant horizon, just barely in sight, but in sight, nonetheless. And, by keeping these stories alive, Giddens is doing her part to make sure that justice is not a mirage. In a year offering an embarrassment of roots music riches, Rhiannon Giddens’ glorious ‘Freedom Highway’ is set to be one of the most important and, indeed, one of the most potent.