Rhiannon Giddens has unveiled the title track for her new solo LP Freedom Highway, due out via Nonesuch on February 24th. A collaboration with St. Louis musician Bhi Bhiman, the rousing tune is an update of the Staple Singers’ gospel-tinged call to action originally inspired by the 50-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement.
First recorded during a live performance by the Staple Singers at the New Nazareth Church on Chicago’s gritty South Side, the original features Pops and his children, Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis Staples, with the latter delivering a rafter-rattling, soul-stirring lead vocal. The recording of the original live LP, long out of print until last year, was overseen by iconic Nashville producer and songwriter Billy Sherrill, best known for his work with George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
For Giddens, “Freedom Highway” is a 21st century clarion call, coming at the end of a contentious presidential election and an uncertain future for many Americans. In a passionate message accompanying audio for song, Giddens writes: “I am a daughter of the South; of the white working class, of the black working class; of the Democrat, and the Republican; of the gay, and the straight; and I can tell you one thing – we are far more alike than we are different, We cannot let hate divide us; we cannot let ignorance diminish us; we cannot let those whose greed fills their every waking hour take our country from us. They can’t take U.S. from US – unless we let them. I recorded this with Bhi Bhiman, all-American singer-songwriter from St. Louis, whose parents are from Sri Lanka. America’s strength are her people, whether they came 4,000, 400, or 40 years ago, and we can’t leave anyone behind. Let’s walk down Freedom Highway together.”
Giddens, who sang with Eric Church on his anti-hate anthem “Kill a Word” this year, will start the new year as a cast member of Nashville. The musical drama’s fifth season premieres January 5th on CMT.
Freedom Highway track listing:
“At the Purchaser’s Option” (Rhiannon Giddens/Joey Ryan)
“The Angels Laid Him Away” (Mississippi John Hurt)
“Julie” (Rhiannon Giddens)
“Birmingham Sunday” (Richard Fariña)
“Better Get It Right the First Time” (Rhiannon Giddens/Dirk Powell/Justin Harrington)
“We Could Fly” (Rhiannon Giddens/Dirk Powell)
“Hey Bébé” (Rhiannon Giddens/Dirk Powell)
“Come Love Come” (Rhiannon Giddens)
“The Love We Almost Had” (Rhiannon Giddens/Bhi Bhiman)
“Baby Boy” (ft. Lalenja Harrington & Leyla McCalla) (Rhiannon Giddens/Lalenja Harrington)
“Following the North Star” (Rhiannon Giddens)
“Freedom Highway” (ft. Bhi Bhiman) (Roebuck “Pops” Staples)