“So we [played] a sad love song already today,” Rhiannon Giddens told her audience during the final moments of her debut performance at Austin City Limits. “This is a mad love song.”
With that, Giddens and her band launched into “Louisiana Man,” a vicious set-closer that found the singer dressing down a no-good lover. Fueled by fiddle, upright bass, mandolin, percussion, bursts of electric guitar and the steady thwack of Giddens’ own banjo, the song was a showcase not only for Giddens’ voice – an instrument that sweeps, soars and snarls, driven by equal parts classical training and folksy instinct – but also her talent as a bandleader.
Making its television debut on October 8th on PBS, Giddens’ Austin City Limits performance includes both covers and originals, from “Spanish Mary” – a Bob Dylan collaboration released on the New Basement Tapes project – to a revamped version of Odetta’s “Waterboy.” Mandolin player Hubby Jenkins, her bandmate in the Carolina Chocolate Drops, lends his vocals to the gospel song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” while Giddens mans the microphone alone for “Mouth Music,” a Gaelic traditional that proves her interest in roots music reaches far beyond American borders (watch the performance below). As if to drive home that international focus, U.K. songwriter James Bay opens up the episode, kicking off the night with songs like “Let it Go” and “Hold Back the River.”
Giddens is making her mark of late in both the Americana and country genres, appearing most recently on Eric Church’s “Kill a Word,” which the two performed on The Tonight Show. Giddens has also been cast on the new season of Nashville, premiering January 5th on CMT.
Now in its 42nd season, Austin City Limits will air episodes featuring Robert Plant, My Morning Jacket and highlights from this year’s Americana Music Festival in the coming weeks.