Album Review: Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, ‘They’re Calling Me Home’

They’re Calling Me Home is one of those starkly beautiful albums on which every song provides entry into a wondrous sonic landscape where tendrils of mourning and loss twine around longing and hope. Every song shimmers with the spare beauty of Rhiannon Giddens’ emotionally intimate vocals, her circling minstrel banjo, Francesco Turrisi’s free-flowing accordion strains, Giddens’ deeply resonating cello bowings, as well as the trills of Emer Mayock’s Irish flute. Locked down in Ireland since March 2020 because of the pandemic, the duo selected traditional songs—Giddens wrote two new songs for the album, “Avalon” and “Niwel’s Tune”—that go to ground and recall the powerful longing for home, as well as the desire to return to an eternal home—being “called home”—where we’ll find rest.

Giddens’ soaring vocals float over Turrisi’s accordion strains—he mimics the sound of a church organ for this song of loss and celebration—on the Alice Gerrard-penned song “Calling Me Home”; it’s a stunning song with which to open the album, for Giddens’ close-to-the-heart vocals wend their way into our souls, and by the end of the song we have been released and transformed, and we want to go home. The raw honesty of this one song is alone worth the price of admission to the album.

The Celtic-flavored “Avalon”—with Giddens’ and Turrisi’s vocals circling around and around Giddens’ vigorous viola strokes, Niwel Tsumbu’s energetic guitar strums, and Turrisi’s thrumming frame drum—echoes the airiness of folk rock while conveying the journey to the mists that mark the boundaries of this life from the next. The duo’s version of “I Shall Not Be Moved” is stirring in its simplicity, vocals riding over minstrel banjo rolls and flowing accordion. The duo’s version embraces a glorious defiance, and this version could easily be sung at protest movements. Giddens and Turrisi convey the sorrow and hope of the hills ballad “Black Crow”—with Mayock’s flute trills on the instrumental bridge carrying us back to the Highlands—while Giddens opens “O Death” with a sparse a cappella vocal, and when Turrisi adds his thrumming frame drum, the song becomes a chant that is at once defiant and celebratory in its gospel shouting. The album closes with a moving version of “Amazing Grace” in which Giddens hums the musical lines above Turrisi’s frame drum and Maycock’s uilleann pipes, which mirror Giddens’ vocal hums.

They’re Calling Me Home is a masterpiece.

They’re Calling Me Home available HERE.



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