Late Night OTB – Rhiannon Giddens

An artist discovered via discussion in the comments section.

On last night’s installment, regular commenter de stijl observed that, “People other than white guys with guitars are perfectly capable of making transformative music” and pointed out that, for example, the late Prince had a good song back in the 1980s. While I’m in agreement with both points, my instinct in the revived Late Night OTB has been to focus on artists that I’ve discovered recently in the hopes that maybe readers would likewise share in the discovery.

Still, it’s true that my selections have been overwhelmingly white, male, and guitar-centric. Only one segment featured a song primarily associated with a black artist and that was to showcase a version I much preferred from white dudes with guitars. Lionel Ritchie, a black man who plays piano, was featured in another installment but he, too, wasn’t the focus.

OzarkHillbilly, quite reasonably, suggests that, if the goal is to expand the diversity of my musical tastes, one might “try offering him something you think he might like given his obvious tastes in music?” And he does so in the form of two videos from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. While I’d never heard of them, their 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, won Best Traditional Folk Album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards.

Hit ‘Em Up Style.”

And “Country Girl.”

Alas, while I like the instrumentals and admire the vocal talent, I don’t love the rhythm or tempo of either.

But this put me on the right path.  Here’s Rhiannon Giddens performing “Wayfaring Stranger.”

You probably recognize her: she’s the lead vocalist in the Carolina Chocolate Drops videos above. I much, much prefer her on this.

Here she is performing ”Louisiana Man” on Austin City Limits:

Here she is on “Julie“:

And here she is with the legendary Tom Jones on “St. James Infirmary Blues.”

Of these, “Wayfaring Stranger” is easily my favorite.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Gustopher says:

    “Hit `Em Up Style” is a lot of fun. My favorite of the bunch, followed by “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Julie”. I’m impressed with anyone that can play a fretless banjo with nylon strings — honestly, just keeping such a beast in tune is a challenge.

    I’ll offer up the music of Ola Belle Reed, another fine female banjo player and singer. She was a tough woman, and very religious, but more of the “help your fellow man” version of Christianity than the “you’re doing it wrong” version.

    “Bonaparte’s Retreat” The fun instrument that dominates this is a mountain dulcimer. Also, she refused to change any words, because “that wouldn’t be honest” — I don’t think she intended to perform it as a lesbian love song.

    “High On A Mountain” One of her own compositions, and one of the few of her songs that has gotten a lot of cover versions.

    She also kind of looks like Fred Willard in a dress.

  2. de stijl says:

    Joyner, you are a good dude.

  3. de stijl says:

    My find of the decade is Bat For Lashes. She, her name is Natasha Khan, has been producing this insanely great shit for ten years and I just found about her today?

    She is Aimee Mann x Regina Spektor + Robyn with notes of Bjork and Kate Bush. Wow!

    Pick a song by her, any song and then sit the fuck down.

    Start anywhere, apparently, because she only records great fucking songs. Daniel, Garden’s Heart, Laura, All Your Gold, Lilies, Horses Of The Sun, Marilyn, Deep Sea Diver etc, etc.

    Include Laura. It is slower and very moving. And the Terrence Stamp look alike who dances with Ms. Khan at the end of the video – that man will break you heart.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Rhiannon is a gift.

    I had a feeling the CCDs might be a little too frenetic (I love Jug Band music) and wanted to throw you a few of Rhiannon’s slower stuff but time and link limits did not allow for that. Glad that you followed up the associated links to her other stuff.

  5. Franklin says:

    @de stijl: That’s more up my alley. I need a few more listens but my first pass on your play list is a good sign. That Laura song has some decent number of views on YouTube, unlike most of them, but she doesn’t seem to have broken out.