Over the past two years, Rhiannon Giddens has emerged as one of American music’s most vitally prolific artists, collaborating across mediums as she’s written music for the theatre (the ballet Lucy Negro Redux), appeared as a regular on a television drama (CMT’s Nashville), formed folk-roots supergroups (Songs of Our Native Daughters) and hosted a podcast dedicated to her love of opera.
She’s also released two solo albums, the latest of which, There Is No Other, is a collaborative concept LP of sorts with Italian jazz multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. As its title indicates, Giddens’ latest is a musical bridge-building project, with the 42 year-old North Carolinian singer merging her excellent banjo playing with Turrisi, who draws on polyglot North African, Middle Eastern and Italian traditions in his accompaniment.
It’s hard not to take the record’s title as a commentary on her own singular musical interests, which encompasses everything from classical music to 19th century minstrelsy to contemporary country and folk-roots. With its mix of originals, covers and traditional songs, Giddens’ latest encompasses the disparate strands of her heritage like nothing before, blending the canon-recasting interpretations of her 2015 solo debut Tomorrow Is My Turn with the historically-minded storytelling of her 2017 opus Freedom Highway and this year’s Songs of Our Native Daughters, a black feminist roots reclamation recorded with Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah.
On There Is No Other, age-old folk standards like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Little Margaret,” transformed into theatre pieces in Giddens’ classically-trained alto, blend seamlessly into 20th century opera originals like “The Trees on The Mountain” and “Black Swan,” that are rendered here as fresh vernacular statements.
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After more than a dozen years of record-making, Giddens has learned to weave varying strands of blues, gospel and folk to the point where she can write brand-new originals, like the stunning piano spiritual “He Will See You Through,” that sound decades, if not centuries, old. It’s hard not to wish for a few more moments like that on There Is No Other, where old-school songcraft takes precedence over the album’s bravely collaborative spirit. But Gidden’s new album, yet another fine entry in her outstanding current run, is ultimately the most distilled and sui generis display of the unique artistry that defines her still-blossoming career