Released in late February, Rhiannon Giddens’ new album Freedom Highway did much to establish the performer as a gifted composer in her own right, combining thoughtful originals with fitting covers like the Staple Singers-penned title track. She doesn’t even need words to impress, as a new in-studio performance video of the album’s “Following the North Star” demonstrates.
Falling between the maternal musings of “Baby Boy” and the unflinching determination of the album-closing title track, “Following the North Star” gives the spotlight to Giddens the instrumentalist. Filmed at producer Dirk Powell’s studio in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana – where the album was recorded – the performance begins with muted, almost tribal, drumming, which Giddens expands by plucking out a hypnotic melody on her banjo. She’s joined by a percussionist who adds some spoon-like, snapping rhythmic texture and they lock together for the next two minutes. Giddens issues slight variations on her main theme, her strumming style of play giving the illusion of multiple banjos bouncing off one another. It’s a nice, short display of her musical range – one that extends to belting fiery protest anthems.
Though she’s amassed quite the following in roots and Americana music, Giddens can also be heard backing up Eric Church on the current country hit single “Kill a Word.” She’ll hit the road later in spring, including an April 28th appearance at Stagecoach.