Just a few songs into her gig Rhiannon Giddens said she had been told that “her genre is difference” – and you can see why.
With a setlist that ranged from a Black Lives Matter inspired protest song based on a fragment of a 16th century cotton-picking tune to a Paul Simon classic, and taking in 1920s blues and the score of a ballet about Shakespeare on the way, this was certainly doing different – and doing it exceptionally well.
Her musicianship was matched by Francesco Turrisi, whom she collaborated with for her Grammy Award winning album They’re Calling Me Home, who seemed equally at home on bendir, tamborello, accordion, or piano.
From the opening number, Calling Me Home, sung acapella with just a single accordion note for company, Giddens impressed the full house at the city’s St Andrew’s Hall, charming them further with a prayer of awe to her surroundings.
The pair are now both based in Ireland but the music covered a wide range of influences, including Italian, Cuban, and even the Shetland Islands.
Highlights included Following The North Star, showcasing Turrisi’s deceptively simple percussion backing, and At The Purchaser’s Option, inspired by a brutal slavery advert with vocals soaring over a disjointed, falling piano riff accompaniment.
The second half opened with a stunning rendition of O Death, with later numbers including an audience sing-a-long to I Shall Not Be Moved. The main set closed with her slightly-amended cover of Paul Simon’s American Tune – amended by Simon that is, for a duet with Giddens at his Grammy celebration. That tells you all you need to know about her pedigree.
This was the kind of concert that reminds you why live music exists.
- The Norfolk and Norwich Festival continues until May 28, 2023.