Rhiannon Giddens began her Freedom Highway tour at a surprising place. Sing Sing prison in New York. There, she addressed the inmates (and the NY Times reporter) and performed songs from the new album, describing the prison as “perfect for what this album is about and the sort of social consciousness and activism that surrounds this record.” The album highlights Giddens’ earthy-roots music and her original, often political lyrics (her previous solo album post-Carolina Chocolate Drops was a covers record). She doesn’t shy away from issues political, historical or contemporary, racial or social.
As Giddens tour continued, she arrived at somewhere a bit more glamorous, Lincoln Center, for the final show of the 2017 American Songbook series. She had performed in the series twice in the past few years, and this was her biggest show at Lincoln Center yet, in front of a sold-out crowd at Alice Tully Hall. Her backing band included multi-instrumentalists Dirk Powell and Hubby Jenkins, Jason Sypher on bass and Jamie Dick on drums, as well as her sister Lalenja Harrington providing back-up vocals and her nephew Justin Harrington rapping a song near the end of the powerful show. As Billboard noted, “Giddens’ vocals—which reveal her extensive operatic training—were front-and-center on such show highlights as Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” and Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You,” which gave the originals a run for their money; and the Mack Gordon-written “Underneath the Harlem Moon,” which Ethel Waters recorded in the 1930s. “There’s a lot of good stuff to be found,” Giddens said of the last song. “It makes all the digging worthwhile.” Photos from Giddens performance, as well as upcoming tour dates, are below.