Giddens and Turrisi remember home in their eclectic new album
The ever-elusive Rhiannon Giddens is a difficult person to pinpoint. Well, to put it in better terms, she refuses to be pinpointed. Grammy awards, acting gigs, songwriting and collaborations from Yo-Yo Ma to Eric Church are only some of the things this woman is capable of. Giddens has steadily gained popularity since 2010, and she now sits high on the list of female folk singers in 2021.
Her newest album, They’re Calling Me Home, is a follow up to her 2019 album with Francesco Turrisi, an Italian multi-instrumentalist who has been recognized with Grammy nominations, called There Is No Other. On the 2021 album, though Giddens is the only one that can be heard singing on the track, Turrisi’s instrumentation is not lost. This album represents home for these two artists. Not just home though, it shows the solace that people find there. Gidden’s native South Carolina sound can be heard in some, while Turrisi’s Italian Irish roots can be heard in others.
The album begins with a little mix of the two artists. “Calling Me Home” highlights Gidden’s booming voice while continuous bare chords play behind her. The mix comes in such a way that the song sounds as if it were a traditional Irish hymn and features bagpipes, but traditional southern fiddles are apparent. “Avalon,” the next song on the album, is much more lively and reveals the first song where Giddens tries an accent. This song continues the theme of home and its securities while also pondering ideas like mortality.
“Si Dolce è’l Tormento,” (translated as “So Sweet the Torment” in English) is four minutes of a classic Italian song about finding comfort in pain, still adhering to this album’s “thesis,” if you will. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, this song is entirely in Italian.
“I Shall Not Be Moved” is the first real glimpse of Giddens’s home that listeners get. First written in 1908, this song has been used on multiple occasions as a peaceful protest song. In the deeply faithful song, light percussion, tinny banjos, an acoustic guitar, an accordion and a fiddle come together to give a calming yet steadfast feel to itself. “Black as Crow” again shows her Southern heritage, but has Irish themes. A banjo and fiddle take the melody until a long fiddle solo using classically Irish notes disrupts the mood.
If one were to picture the voice of a gospel singer and what they should like, it should sound just as Giddens does on “O Death.” The passion, the high notes, the low notes, the grit, the bravado—everything is there. Another faith-based resiliency anthem, these two musicians shake off the Grim Reaper with an “Oh no, Death, I’m not ready to die.” The following song, “Niwel Goes to Town,” is a tip of the cap to Turrisi as it’s completely instrumental.
“Waterbound” is the best song on the album. Each verse has three repeating lines until it comes back together with, “waterbound and I can’t get home, down in North Carolina.” Percussion, light fiddles and acoustic guitars have easygoing fun that would belong in a dance or a nursery. Giddens’s beautiful voice interacts perfectly with Turrisi’s picking.
A largely flute instrumental, “Bully for You,” goes into another Italian song deeply personal to Turrisi called “Nenna Nenna,” about family. To conclude this album, “Amazing Grace”—yes that “Amazing Grace”—begins with Giddens’s rhythmic humming over what can only be described as African drums. In this piece, Giddens only hums until her voice is joined by a hauntingly stunning set of bagpipes.
Though this album is not something that would be played in one’s car, one can’t help but be impressed. Rhiannon Giddens can do anything. She’s screamed her lungs out at the CMA’s with Eric Church, and now she can somehow mash together Southern folk tropes with Italian and Irish conventional music. Their message of solace in the home was conveyed incredibly well throughout They’re Calling Me Home, even in their songs in different languages. Giddens and Turrisi are both so talented at what they do, it’s extremely hard to say anything negative.