“Rhiannon (Giddens) Rings Like a Bell Through the Night” on the Landmark Stage

“Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her.” The famous opening line of Fleetwood Mac’s song, “Rhiannon,” could just as easily apply to Rhiannon Giddens, who graced Landmark on Main Street’s stage on Friday, April 17, 2015.

The sold-out show marked Giddens’ second time at Landmark – she performed there as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops in the past. This time, the multi-talented Giddens was touring in support of her new solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn.

Opening the show was Bhi Bhiman, a folk-rock performer originally from San Francisco. Armed with just his voice and a guitar, Bhiman’s set gave a glimpse into the start of an emerging talent. Bhiman’s new CD, Rhythm & Reason, is due out next month and the artist gave the audience a good taste of his upcoming offering. From ethereal to funky, Bhiman pairs thoughtful lyrics with interesting and varied melodies – worth checking out!

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The crowd went wild as Rhiannon Giddens and her 5-piece band took the stage, and the crowd’s fervor increased when she picked up her banjo and launched into a stunning version of “Spanish Mary” from Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. A bit of background – in 2014, Giddens was part of an elite group of musicians (including Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford among others) who were gathered by producer T Bone Burnett to bring to life to recently discovered Bob Dylan lyrics penned in 1967 when Dylan was working on The Basement Tapes. This project resulted in Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes and if you haven’t yet heard them, I suggest you do. “Spanish Mary,” with its steady banjo picking and Giddens’ powerful voice is a true homage to both Bob Dylan and the many sea shanties that have found their way into folk music.

Giddens is a triple threat – a multi-instrumentalist (she played both violin and banjo), a powerful and versatile vocalist bringing to mind the best of classic folk from the 60’s (Odetta to Joan Baez), and poised beauty. Producer T Bone Burnett was so impressed with Giddens that he asked to produce a record with her. The result was Giddens’ recently released solo debut — Tomorrow is My Turn. The CD is as diverse as Giddens herself is, and covers diverse genres from gospel to folk, from jazz to blues and country. Of note were Giddens’ breathtaking renditions of Odetta’s “Waterboy, ” her gorgeous tribute to Nina Simone in the title track “Tomorrow is My Turn,” and the traditional “Black is the Color” famously performed by Port Washington’s own folkie, Jean Ritchie. Backing musician Rowan Corbet’s amazing work on the percussion “bones” and some astounding banjo playing made the Chocolate Drops’ “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” another winner.

Giddens’ backing band included some of the best musicians I’ve seen – no surprise since it turns out that three of them (Hubby Jenkins – banjo, Malcom Parson – cello, and Rowan Corbet – various) are Giddens’ fellow Carolina Chocolate Drops band members. The other two musicians rounding out the sound were Jamie Dick on drums and Jason Sypher on bass. All the musicians were playing at the top of their game, and the Chocolate Drops members even did an acoustic number midway through the show.

If you can catch Rhiannon Giddens at any of her upcoming stops, I highly recommend you do so. Due to her exploding popularity, I don’t believe that she will be playing as intimate a venue as Landmark in the future. Those of us in the audience on Friday will treasure the memory of this fabulous performance for a long time to come.

Image credit: Steven Sandick