Found dead people in the forest Tallahatchie River and lakes
The whole wide world is wonderin’
What’s wrong with the United States
What’s wrong indeed! Lyrics from the Staples Singer’s Freedom Highway recorded twenty five years ago still resonate. It’s now the closing track on the second solo album of Rhiannon Giddens.
Her latest collection of songs lay bare the condition of Afro-Americans from slavery days to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Although the thoroughly reactionary Trump regime trumpets the “threat of terrorism”, the black population of North America has lived in a state of terror for 400 years.
Giddens gives a poignant rendering of Richard Farina’s Birmingham Sunday, about the cowardly murder or four black children by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama in 1963. Racist psychopaths continue to massacre black people in churches — witness Dylann Roof’s attack in Charleston which left nine people dead.
Slavery is very much a root cause of racist poison in the USA. Some of Giddens’ self-penned songs on this album are inspired by slave narratives gleaned from The Slaves War by Andrew Ward.
Ward’s book drew from hundreds of primary and secondary sources which recounted the Civil War from the point of view of the slaves. Julie tells the story of a female slave’s conversation with her mistress as Union soldiers approach the plantation mansion house. The white slaveowner begs her maid to stay in what she deludes herself as being one big happy family, but for the slave ...”in leaving her, I’m leaving hell”. A homage to Gone With The Wind it ain’t!
The album opener is At The Purchaser’s Option — an account of a 22 year old "negro wench" up for sale with her nine-month old baby. The buyer has the “option” of taking the child or not. “Fingers nimble, fingers quick, My fingers bleed to make you rich” is how this ballad perceptively ends.
Bringing this up to the modern day, Better Get It Right The First Time concerns the plight of young black men in danger of being assassinated by trigger-happy cops and racist vigilantes for the crime of walking on the street.
Young man was a good man
Or did you run that day
Young man was a good man
Baby, they shot you anyway
Giddens was a leading members of the folk roots group Carolina Chocolate Drops. Herfirst solo venture Tomorrow Is My Time showed off her wonderful voice ability to perform songs in a numbers of different genres. This latest album represents more of a return to her roots.
Blues and jazz styles predominate, with the occasional foray into rap. For those wanting a soundtrack for the resistance to Trump and his cronies, this is the place to start.