XPN Fest Recap: Rhiannon Giddens' commanding set radiates strength and hope - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Rihannon Giddens | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN

At first listen, Rhiannon Giddens‘ music seems like an amalgamation of completely separate genres. Elements of blues and folk music fuse with banjo-filled bluegrass on her latest album, Freedom Highway, for an eclectic blend of backgrounds. But in reality, these genres are all connected through its African roots.

It’s a connection that’s not very prominent, as folk and bluegrass is commonly associated with America –particularly white America –so hearing Giddens weave a different kind of narrative, which blends these sounds and stories together to reclaim its true roots is truly an amazing and powerful thing.

And Saturday, the XPN Fest crowd was blessed with a commanding performance of these songs as Giddens’ passion shone through her set, traveling from the steadfast and purposeful opener of “At the Purchaser’s Option” to the hip-hop and rock influenced track, “Better Get It Right the First Time,” to the hand-clapping ending celebration of Civil Rights anthem “Freedom Highway.”

Also in the mix was the stripped and aching song, “We Could Fly.” Though powerful enough on its own, the track became even more heart-wrenching when coupled with the backstory Giddens provided. She explained beforehand that the acoustic ballad is based on an African folk tale, which tells the story of how ancestors had once possessed the ability to fly, but lost their flight when taken away in the slave ships to America.

Serving as a source of strength and hope, the song carved a defining moment in Gidden’s performance, and underlined her ability to carry heavy importance with graceful rapture.

At the Purchaser’s Option
Following the North Star
Love We Almost Had
We Could Fly
Creole Tunes
She’s Got You
Better Get It Right The First Time
Freedom Highway

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