Freedom Highway Brings Inspiration and Hope
Rhiannon Giddens’s Freedom Highway is filled with banjos, fiddles, civil rights, history and original material — unlike her solo debut, Tomorrow Is My Turn, which was an album of covers. The singer, songwriter, composer and instrumentalist has created a work full of emotional songs that highlight the African-American life across centuries. She uses her second solo album as a medium to discuss the ugliness of slavery from the plantation days to the racism that continues into the modern era, with the current wave of police brutality and protests.
Every single track on Freedom Highway discloses an exclusive, moving tale that — using African folk and tons of emotion — permeates the pain of slaves and the lack of human decency they encountered, along with the distress and degradation that those of color still struggle with today. For instance, the album opener, “At the Purchaser’s Option,” is a first person account of a plantation owner’s power over black women. In the chorus, when she realizes that the child to which she has just given birth will most likely be sold away, she sings, “you can take my body, take my bones, take my blood, but not my soul.”
Although most tracks on Highway are filled with slow, moaning lullabies, trombones and cellos, Giddens brings more to the table with her most dynamic and modern track “Better Get It Right the First Time.” The song tells a tale of a young black man going to school and always doing the right thing until he shows up at a house party and is horribly shot down as he is trying to leave. Giddens’s nephew Justin Harrington is brought onto the track to rap, making this song more lively and honest than ever.
Tension, sadness, activism and hope spread throughout the album’s entirety making Freedom Highway an extremely timely album and a perfect soundtrack for the nation today. The record both horrifies and inspires, as it informs us of the gruesome details our history holds. However, even though each song booms with sorrow and gloom, Freedom Highway is also a resounding and inspiring call to action, giving listeners the ambition they need.