Freedom Highway (2017, Americana)
Nonesuch Records, 558805-2, 50:05
CD Review by Hermon Joyner
Freedom Highway is Rhiannon Giddens second solo effort and it is quite the departure from her first CD, Tomorrow Is My Turn, which was a celebration of all the women performers that paved the way for singers like Giddens. It was an album of mostly covers from those singers that meant the most to Giddens. This time around, Freedom Highway is mostly original songs written by Giddens with a few other tunes by folks like “Pops” Staples and Mississippi John Hurt.
This album has a certain push-pull aspect to it, in that much of the past is referenced while seen and defined by contemporary understanding. And what I mean by this is this album is Giddens’s reflection and examination of the African American experience and where things stand today. Giddens is holding a mirror up to all Americans and showing us how much more there is to do. I don’t know of anyone that has ever solved a problem by ignoring it, and Giddens is doing her part to make sure the conversation is not neglected.
Rhiannon Giddens delivers a haunting performance in these songs that is stunningly bittersweet in its heartfelt honesty. She is an accomplished singer, an exceptional songwriter, and her potential seems limitless. Every track is a revelation that tears at the heart. The procession of songs begins with a slave’s lament in At the Purchaser’s Option, which explores whether a woman will be allowed to keep her own child, and ends up on a rousing high note with the title song, Freedom Highway by “Pops” Staples. In between these songs are explorations of despair and love, and death and hope.
I can’t say that this is an easy album, but I do feel it is the right album for our time and Rhiannon Giddens is the best person for the job. It is a conversation that is long overdue. Freedom Highway is not an experience that can be lightly taken; it is hard-hitting, bold, timely, and lingers in the memory. Highly recommended.
Song List: At The Purchaser's Option; The Angels Laid Him Away; Julie; Birmingham Sunday; Better Get It Right The First Time; We Could Fly; Hey Bebe; Come Love Come; The Love We Almost Had; Baby Boy; Following The North Star; Freedom Highway.