Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Mon 28th January 2019
From Celtic Connections Festival 17 Jan to 3 Feb 2019
By MIKE RITCHIE
There is no doubt that Rhiannon Giddens creates a palpable sense of joy and jubilation among her fans – a remarkable achievement since much of her material is gleaned from what she described as “a heavy history” littered with pain, injustice and lack of basic freedoms.
Backed by the excellent, bespoke Celtic Blues Orchestra conducted by Greg Lawson, she revelled in the full sounds that soared through the room and successfully created moments of intimacy when she played solo or sang acapella.
Her songs mean a everything to her and to an audience thrilled to be in her company once again.
She is an expert interpreter of songs. Bob Dylan lyrics make up Spanish Mary, which she recorded with The New Basement Tapes and delivered in hushed and brooding tones. Birmingham Sunday, from 2017’s Freedom Highway, was strident and dramatic with the orchestra playing majestically. “On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine / and the choir kept singing of freedom” she sang with pain seeping into every word of every forlorn verse.
And, not for the first, or last time in the show, the musicians joined in the applause.
He wasn’t present but Gabe Witcher of The Punch Brothers would have been overjoyed that his arrangements were proving a major hit. Her own composition, Factory Girl, was heartfelt and poised, including four verses to form her personal commemoration for those who perished in a Bangladesh factory fire as well as her reminder that not every one can have what some regard as the good things in life.
Lullaby – about servants caring for children – was sadly bewitching. But, regardless of subject matter, on fiddle or banjo or neither, Giddens was a delightful history guide, sprinkling the ‘lessons’ irresistibly with song and sparkle. Odetta’s Waterboy is hard to describe so happy to leave it as wonderful.
And, as befits this festival, she sang lustily in Gaelic, gleefully performed an Irish jig and giggled and joked when an errant fiddle proved difficult to tune. Serene or effervescent, she is sheer class.