Rhiannon Giddens, “Spanish Mary” from The New Basement Tapes: One Track Mind

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In a project that has often, so far, revealed itself to be a little too considered for its own good, Rhiannon Giddens’ darkly contoured reading of “Spanish Mary” finds The New Basement Tapes finally living up to its dizzying promise.

There has been no little enthusiasm display for this project, which finds producer T Bone Burnett and a cast also including Jim James, Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford working to complete unfinished lyrics from the same period as Bob Dylan’s original Basement Tapes collaborations with the Band. They just never seemed to get the tone of those 1967 sessions, so rich and loose and familial and real, quite right.

Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops has no such issues, however, connecting with a striking depth to a theme set in the Caribbean — resonant then as now as the gateway for the slave trade into the Americas. Her ballad style is without artiface, without tic. Rhiannon Giddens sings with every part of her heart.

“Spanish Mary” is then completed with a oaken, minstrelsy banjo, again in keeping with the underlying theme of African diaspora — a choice as welcome as it is far away from the sleek feel of earlier advance tracks. Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes is due November 11, 2014 via Electromagnetic/Harvest Records.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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