Album Review: Rhiannon Giddens, ‘You’re the One’

On her new album, Rhiannon Giddens demonstrates once again her commanding vocal ability to lift every song beyond this plane, as well as her canny songwriting that traverses the musical landscape from jazz and pop to soul and country blues, reveling in moments drenched in raw sensuality or bathed in tenderness.

The high energy soul shouter “Too Little, Too Late, Too Bad” kicks off the album with a Stax-meets-Muscle-Shoals vibe propelled by striding piano runs, wailing B3 strains, and funky snares. Giddens’ stunning vocals climb ever higher, accompanied by background call and response vocals, into a soul stratosphere that resonates with the presence of Aretha Franklin.

“You’re the One” opens sparsely with banjo plucks and violin strains before driving snare drums carry the song higher and higher. It’s a love song to her son and the movement between the song’s sparse opening measures and the swelling verses and choruses evokes the range of emotions she experiences.

Opening with a burlesque piano run, “You Put the Sugar in My Bowl,” flows along a jazzy New Orleans second line foundation that’s punctuated by the singer’s sultry recitative; it sonically recalls Blue Lu Barker’s down-to-the-bone blues vamp “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” made famous by Maria Muldaur on her debut self-titled album. The boisterous Cajun boogaloo “Way Over Yonder” swirls and whirls, inviting listeners to pick a partner and dance across the floor, while “Wrong Kind of Right” comes straight out of the soul universe, combining strains of Philly soul, Muscle Shoals, and early ‘60s anthems like “Everybody Loves a Winner.” “If You Don’t Know How Sweet It Is” combines the sass and humor of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and the striding rhythms of early folk ballads, while the gorgeous “Who Are You Dreaming Of?” recalls the jazz ballroom standards of Nina Simone.

On You’re the One, Rhiannon Giddens dwells in her songs, turning every phrase inside out and then delivering soaring vocal performances that combine the nuance sultry smokiness and emotional tremolo of Nina Simone, the towering soul shouts of Aretha Franklin, and the swaying vamp of Maria Muldaur and Ma Rainey. It’s easy to hear the joyous spirit in which she’s singing these songs, and Giddens delivers a little masterpiece of an album that showcases her commanding presence as a singer and songwriter.


You’re the One is available HERE


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