Joan Baez, United States singer, interviewed


This music video from the USA about the Vietnam war is called Joan Baez – Where Are You Now, My Son?

On 5 February 2019, Dutch daily Trouw published an interview by Saskia Bosch with United States singer Joan Baez. The interview was by telephone from Ms Baez’ home.

Parts of it (translated):

Joan Baez says goodbye: ‘I was at my most powerful when I could combine singing with activism’

On Friday Joan Baez (78) will sing her very last concert in the Netherlands. The US American singer will stop touring. “My voice is deteriorating. I hear it and I feel it.”…

The American singer-songwriter will be in the business for exactly sixty years in 2019. She broke through in the nineteen sixties with engaged folk pop songs like ‘Farewell, Angelina’, ‘Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word’ and ‘We Shall Overcome‘ and together with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan was one of the most important representatives of the protest generation. Her activism was always just as important as her music. Last year she released the new album ‘Whistle Down the Wind’, but also announced her last tour.

The reason: the decline of her vocals. … Baez … announced last year that her ‘Fare Thee Well Tour’ would be her farewell tour. …

How does that feel, such a farewell tour? Baez laughs: “Nice, because a lot of people come to the shows, because they know it’s the last time they can see me live. We play for sold-out halls and even did twenty shows in the Parisian Olympia. That would not have been possible if we would not have announced the farewell.”

This music video is called Joan Baez – Fare Thee Well Tour – Live @ Paris Olympia 13 June 2018 (COMPLETE HD CONCERT).

There has not been time for melancholy or sadness. “The reaction will only come later, I suspect. Maybe I will feel relieved, maybe in mourning, maybe both. To be honest, I do not know.”

Painting

The emotions which she has so far put into her live performances, Baez expects to put partly into her other passion: painting. Full of enthusiasm she talks about the portrait she made of Emma Gonzalez, the student who survived the shooting at her school in Florida and last year held such an impressive speech during the March for Our Lives. “Give me your e-mail address, then I will send you a photo of the painting.” A little later the painting of a serious looking Gonzalez in red and green tones appears in the mailbox. …

The activist

The singer is just as well-known for her music as for her activism that runs like a thread through her life and music. In this way she opposed the war in Vietnam and the US American civil rights movement. “The highlights of my life coincided with the times when I had both hats on: activism and music. Then I was at my most powerful and most useful.”

As an example, she mentions how in 1966, when segregated schools had just been abolished, in Grenada, Mississippi, she was accompanying black pupils who were attending a white school for the first time. “Martin Luther King Jr. had asked me to walk with them until he could come. I walked there with little black children, who were pelted with rocks. My presence made it harder for white adults to throw the rocks at the children. I was proud and strong. I told a big policeman: “We are bringing these children to school.” He answered in that southern accent: ‘You cannot go any further’. Maybe I was stupid and my heart was pounding, but it was a challenge I liked.”

Now Baez is still committed to matters that concern her. … Baez refers to climate change.

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United States folk musician Leyla McCalla


This October 2019 music video from the USA is called Leyla McCalla – ‘The Capitalist Blues’ (Lyrics Video).

By Matthew Brennan in the USA:

Leyla McCalla’s Capitalist Blues: Keeping one’s eyes open

2 February 2019

Musician-songwriter Leyla McCalla’s newest album Capitalist Blues, released January 25, is an intriguing effort. In the course of 11 songs she works through situations, sentiments and moods that are hovering in the air today, but often disconnected from their broader context in popular music. To her credit, the singer-songwriter tries to make this connection, with some success, and the album is the better for it.

Trained as a classical cellist, McCalla’s eventual decision to pursue folk-based music and song-writing led her to the rich New Orleans music environment where she has been a fixture for much of the past decade. Already relatively well-established through her contributions to the folk-music collective Carolina Chocolate Drops (led by the talented Rhiannon Giddens and Don Flemons), her solo efforts to date have demonstrated a good deal of talent and thoughtfulness, as well as a consistent interest in historical themes and music history.

Her first two self-produced albums—Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes and A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey—were more stripped-down explorations of historical periods and figures (such as the poet Hughes), as well as life in regions like the American south.

She has paid particular attention to the Haitian-American diaspora. McCalla is the grand-daughter of Ben Dupuy, who was the longtime editor of the … left-nationalist publication, Haïti Progrès, and ambassador at large under the shortlived first government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide (overthrown by a military coup) in 1991.

McCalla has repeatedly pursued the deeply intertwined and often brutal connection between the US and Haiti as a theme of her songwriting.

Capitalist Blues represents, particularly in musical form, a notable expansion of her previous efforts. Her notion that capitalism is the general source of the “blues” is also an unusually direct statement, as far as popular music goes. One suspects it is an indication of larger stirrings among serious artists today.

“The album is me thinking about the psychological and emotional effects of living in a capitalist society,” McCalla states in an album “teaser” video. Her efforts to convey these sentiments musically are largely rewarding.

This October 2018 video is called Leyla McCalla – ‘The Capitalist Blues’ (Album Teaser).

Featuring New Orleans jazz, Cajun, Creole, American R&B, Haitian Rara, Caribbean folk and other music styles, the album is mostly a lively and engaging collection. Around a third of the songs are sung in Haitian Creole, which McCalla refers to as a “language of protest” in interviews. The language is also a consistent presence throughout much of her body of work.

The album, produced by guitarist-singer Jimmy Horn, features a wide range of talented Louisiana musicians—including pianist Corey Ledet, trumpet player Ben Polcer, drummers Shannon Powell and Chris Dave, singer Topsy Chapman and others—in addition to her regular trio players, Daniel Tremblay (guitarist) and Free Feral (viola).

Leyla McCalla (Credit: leylamccalla.com)

The title track, “Capitalist Blues”, is a New Orleans traditional jazz song, slow and deliberate but with a punchy horn-driven undercurrent. It sets the tone for the album. “You keep telling me to go a little higher/Try to take a different view/But you can see, I’m not inspired/I’ve got the Capitalist Blues/And if I give everything/I won’t have much more to lose,” she sings.

Multiple songs are movingly constructed to either skewer or lament the difficulties facing wide layers of the population. Some of the songs are built around contrasts—for instance, sunny or energetic songs belied by dark sentiments or conditions, such as the title song.

Or, to take another example, “Money Is King,” a cover song originally written by Trinidadian folk musician Neville Mercano (also known as Growling Tiger), McCalla sings of the revolting hypocrisy where being rich removes all limits to social needs, and the poor are often attacked and treated “worse than dogs” for making the slightest demands. The calypso-based song, with rhythmic jazz elements, encourages a defiant stance, daring one to move and dance in response to the absurdity of it all.

Other songs are quite intentionally somber and angry. The R&B dirge “Heavy As Lead” is a song about economic instability and the general anxiety many live with on a day to day basis (“This old house might swallow us whole/Begins with our family/And soon it comes for our soul”).

McCalla states in the album’s liner notes that the song’s title is a direct reference to lead poisoning, spurred on after discovering her own daughter had tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels. “I sing these words thinking of all the families from New Orleans, LA to Flint, Michigan grappling with a system that takes no responsibility for solving this environmental health crisis.”

Other songs express similar somber, and yet quietly defiant sentiments, such as the steel-guitar driven, paradoxically breezy “Mize Pa Dous” (‘Poverty Isn’t Sweet’), the propulsive and yet somber Haitian folk chant of “Lavi Vye Neg” (roughly ‘Old Man’s Life’), and the banjo-based ballad about perseverance in the face of bleakness, “Ain’t No Use.”

She also connects the general atmosphere to the ravages of war, on the discordant “Aleppo” and the Portuguese cover song “Penha” (Peace). The former song, written after watching Facebook videos of Syrians describing life in a war zone, is, to her credit, mainly a denunciation of all wars, and not a concession to US “humanitarian” wars of imperialism. (“Bombs are falling in the name of peace…So much violence in the name of love…Who knows? Where will we go?”). Abrasive and sonically jarring guitar-chords carry the song out to its dark ending.

McCalla also makes sure to capture something about love and companionship in hard times as well. Some of the best musical songs on the album are up-tempo love songs, such as the piano boogie “Me And My Baby” and the Cajun zydeco rocker “Oh My Love.” The former, for instance, celebrates the joy of losing all pretense and anxiety because of how excited someone makes the singer feel.

But the album’s final song “Settle Down,” which is a collaboration with the intriguing Haitian musical collective Lakou Mizik, captures something of the overall strength of the album: that while focusing on the problems, McCalla doesn’t wallow in them as seemingly insurmountable. Written in response to anti-protest laws passed in New Orleans, the song, with a heavy influence of Afro-Caribbean folk musical instrumentation, is a propulsive chant to do the opposite of “settling down.”

All told, Capitalist Blues is effective as a kind of “protest” album largely because McCalla doesn’t try to convey this sentiment in mechanical fashion, or simply speak about capitalism in the manner one would write an essay. Rather she tries, with a good deal of success, to demonstrate what capitalism is through the lives and sentiments of people living under it—anxious, confusing, complex in its contradictions, oppressive and often desperate. It is a largely humane album.

Not everything is worked out of course. There is an abstract quality to some of the song-writing that perhaps takes the edge off some of the overall critique. And, while McCalla and her players are clearly talented and confident musicians, at times it feels like she is still trying to find her musical voice, which can fall behind the playing at times. And taken as whole, the album has the feel of an artist just beginning to really grapple with large “systemic” questions. She is giving the source of the “blues” a name—capitalism, but she has not yet worked through its development, nor the historic alternative to it.

Nonetheless, it is much to McCalla’s credit that she doesn’t take a narrow approach to such difficult matters. This is the attempt of an artist working through the current situation with her eyes open, so to speak. The album is a welcome sign, and it will be interesting to see where she takes it from here.

Trump’s ICE nasal force-feeding of immigrants


This folk music video from the USA says about itself:

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” Joan Baez – 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Class of 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Joan Baez performs “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) onstage with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls.

By Patrick Martin in the USA:

Immigrants subjected to nasal force-feeding at ICE detention center

1 February 2019

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is force-feeding immigrants held in a detention center in Texas, using brutal torture against at least ten men engaged in a hunger strike against their prolonged confinement and mistreatment. The men, mainly Sikhs from the Punjab region of India, are being force-fed either through plastic nasal tubes or intravenous lines, inserted several times a day. At least 30 men are participating in the hunger strike, include some from Cuba as well as the majority from India.

Force-feeding through nasal tubes is a method of torture, used at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and other CIA-run secret prisons overseas, which has been condemned by international human rights groups. The American Medical Association bars its members from participating in such mistreatment. So long as the hunger striker is making a conscious and reasoned decision to refuse food, the AMA guidelines say, a medical doctor should respect their right to do so.

Democratic Party politicians who are making a show of opposition to Trump’s demands for a wall on the US-Mexico border have nothing to say about the brutal treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in ICE detention centers that have provoked the hunger strikes and other protests. On the contrary: the legislation now being discussed in a House-Senate conference committee would provide billions more for ICE to expand the American gulag.

The detainees, held at the ICE El Paso Service Processing Center in the west Texas city, have asked immigration advocates visiting them in detention to make their struggle known to the public. The hunger strike was first reported Thursday morning by the Associated Press. A lawyer for one of the detainees and a volunteer immigration advocate both spoke to the World Socialist Web Site about the conditions the men face.

Ruby Kaur is a Michigan-based immigration attorney who speaks Punjabi, the first language of many of the prisoners, who are Sikhs from the north Indian state of Punjab. She represents one of the hunger strikers and said her client had been put on an IV and then force-fed after more than three weeks without eating or drinking water. “They’ve been held for at least six months,” she said. “They are distinguishing them for treatment primarily on the basis of race.”

Kaur said that her client and the other strikers were protesting mistreatment and physical abuse in the detention, and the response of ICE to the hunger strike was even greater mistreatment. “Physical abuse to me is when they’re being force fed,” she said.

She said that the lawyers for the hunger strikers were still gathering information about the physical condition of their clients. “We are not sure about that yet, because we are still in the process of meeting individuals,” she explained.

“I’m very passionate about immigrants’ rights,” Kaur said, adding that some of the hunger strikers had been placed in solitary confinement, which is also classified as a form of torture by international human rights groups.

She told the Associated Press, “They go on hunger strike, and they are put into solitary confinement and then the ICE officers kind of psychologically torture them, telling the asylum seekers they will send them back to Punjab.”

Margaret Brown Vega from Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention, an immigrant support group based in New Mexico, gave additional details about the conditions at the El Paso ICE facility. She is a volunteer for a group that organizes visits to people in detention, to try to minimize their isolation and despair.

“We became aware of the hunger strike,” she told the WSWS. “Three of us volunteers went and visited with four of the men to talk to them about their situation. El Paso Service Processing Center, the ICE facility, it’s a prison. If you look at the standards they operate under, and how they refer to the detainees, it is a prison. They are very much treated like prisoners.

“It’s very hard to get information about them. I spoke to one individual. Another volunteer spoke to two individuals. A third volunteer spoke to the fourth individual.

“Force-feeding is very troubling. They’re very weak. They walk very slowly, shuffling their feet. Their eyes are very tired looking. The man I saw showed me his arms. He’s been getting three or four IVs a day and he said he thought he would be put on a feeding tube through the side of the nose. I believe this is on an ICE protocol.”

The detainees are required to present themselves for their own torture, she explained: “They’ve complained about having to walk to the medical area instead of being brought in a wheelchair.”

Vega added, “What’s difficult for people to understand is that the conditions in immigration facilities are such they bring people to this point. It’s psychologically very challenging. Sometimes it’s physically challenging.

“I think people underestimate how bad it is to be held indefinitely in a place where you don’t get enough food, where you’re constantly berated, where people place obstacles in your way and play games with you. And the worst thing is never knowing when it’s going to end. It’s pretty bad, when it’s day in and day out.”

Vega said that there had not really been much of a change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, in terms of conditions inside the detention facilities. “I would say that many people feel this is not new,” she continued. “In these facilities, going back ten years, people have noticed these conditions. Even though there are supposedly standards that guide how these places are run.

“I have encountered people in detention who went to a port of entry and applied for asylum. I met one individual who was detained and never given parole. In the El Paso area we’re seeing 100 percent denial rates on parole. We encounter asylum seekers who are not a flight risk, who are not a threat to the community, but they’re not released.”

Both Ruby Kaur and Margaret Brown Vega made it clear that the prisoners had taken the initiative in seeking to have their hunger strike become public, known to a far wider audience than the ICE agents who run the El Paso center.

“Our first priority was to make this situation known,” Vega said. “It’s a matter of First Amendment rights. We feel like it’s our responsibility to help them amplify their voices. It’s very difficult to go even a couple of days without eating. They’re putting their bodies at risk.”

A federal judge has authorized the force-feeding, according to a spokeswoman for ICE, who did not address the charges of physical and psychological abuse by ICE agents. The El Paso facility is directly operated by ICE, not through a subcontractor as at many other detention centers.

When a hunger strike passes the one-month mark, as is the case with the immigrant detainees, there is mounting danger of irreversible physiological damage.

The Associated Press report quoted Amrit Singh, the uncle of two men participating in the hunger strike. “They are not well. Their bodies are really weak, they can’t talk and they have been hospitalized, back and forth,” Singh told AP. “They want to know why they are still in the jail and want to get their rights and wake up the government immigration system.”

There have been repeated hunger strikes by immigration detainees over the last several years, but in most cases the strikers agreed to take food and water under threat of court-ordered force-feeding. It is the continued worsening of conditions, as well as the prospect of indefinite confinement, that has driven some prisoners to take this latest desperate step and defy the threat of torture.

The Freedom for Immigrants organization, the umbrella group to which AVID is affiliated, has documented nearly 1,400 people on hunger strike at 18 detention facilities since May 2015.

The author also recommends:

Thousands seeking asylum in US to be pushed back into Mexico
[26 January 2018]

The death of Felipe Alonzo-Gómez: A crime of US imperialism
[27 December 2018]

ICE DETAINEES ON HUNGER STRIKE Dozens of people detained by federal immigration officials are on a hunger strike at a Boston jail. [AP]

ICE ARRESTS HUNDREDS IN WORKPLACE RAID Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted its largest workplace raid in a decade on Wednesday, arresting more than 280 employees at the CVE Technology Group in Allen, Texas, for “administrative immigration violations,” which generally are for being unauthorized, not for committing any other offense. [HuffPost]

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided an Allen, Texas business on Wednesday morning and arrested 280 undocumented workers. The business, CVE technology, employs 2,100 workers who repair cell phones and other electronic devices. The business is the third largest employer in that city: here.

TRUMP: WALL GETTING DONE WITHOUT CONGRESS President Donald Trump said he would go forward with plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border unilaterally after growing frustrated with Congress. Speaking to The New York Times, he said: “I’ll continue to build the wall, and we’ll get the wall finished.” [HuffPost]

As Trump threatens national emergency. Democrats offer increased spending for border policing: here.

Trump, other governments, jail children, protest song


This music video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Your Local Pirates – Horror And Weep

Recorded by Kees Visser at Anarchist Book Fair Amsterdam, November 10, 2018

Lyrics:

They put all those children in cages
They put all those kids in a jail
They put all those babies in prison
They dump all those kids in a jail

They’re building a prison for babies
They put all those kids in a cage
They’re tearing the child from its mother
They put all those kids in a cage

We’re seeing it all on TV in the news
We sink back in horror and weep
We’re having our dinner and then our dessert
We go to our beds and we sleep

They’re opening refugee detention centers
They’re guarding the borders with guns
They’re blocking the entrance with barbed wire and fence
They’re guarding the borders with guns

They’re turning the seas into graveyards
They treat those who flee as a pest
They’re letting the boats full of refugees drown
They treat those who flee as a pest

We’re seeing it all on TV in the news
We sink back in horror and weep
We’re having our dinner and then our dessert
We go to our beds and we sleep

We watch all those abominations
We look at unspeakable crimes
The turning of dreams into nightmares
The torture and death all the time

It’s time for some determination
It’s high time now to take a stand
Those drownings those cagings those killings
Those prisons and borders must end

Your Local Pirates are Peter Storm and Joke Kaviaar.

Chilean singer Victor Jara murdered, murderers sentenced at last


This music video shows Chilean singer Victor Jara singing Te Recuerdo Amanda.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Chilean officers convicted of murder of singer in 1973

In Chile, eight former armed forces officers have been sentenced to prison for 15 years for the murder of the singer Victor Jara in 1973. The judge imposed the sentence of 15 years and one day after years of investigation. On 16 September it is 45 years ago that Jara was tortured and shot.

Jara was a popular singer, theater director and professor, who sympathized with the socialist Allende government, which was deposed in the 1973 coup by General Pinochet.

The then 40-year-old Jara and his students, fellow teachers and others were imprisoned in a football stadium in the capital Santiago, which was later named after him.

Mutilation

According to prisoners who survived, soldiers shattered Jara’s fingers so he could never play guitar again. Then he was executed. 44 bullets were found in his body days later.

His daughter and wife have fought for justice for years. In 2009 his body was excavated for investigation.

Two years ago, in Florida, Chilean former soldier Pedro Barrientos was found guilty of torturing and killing Victor Jara. The request for his extradition [from the USA] is still ongoing.

British folk-punk Lily Gaskell on music and politics


This music video from England is called Lily Gaskell entertaining guests at Hannah & Rob Blake’s Wedding Party. Brooklands Museum, Saturday 1st August, 2015.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

In tune with the times

Tuesday 10th October 2017

Folk-punk artist LILY GASKELL talks to Felicity Collier about how the changing political landscape impacts on her work

FROM early on in her career, when she played Rock against Racism nights, folk-punk artist Lily Gaskell’s work has been infused with a socialist attitude to music-making.

Along with like-minded people who shared her views to this and other local issues, she developed “a sense of responsibility to stand up for people and share their message,” she tells me.

Lily hails from Thatcher‘s hometown of Stamford and, if further proof were needed that the latter was responsible for millions of children’s misery, the singer tells me that aged 13 she had to clean cobwebs off the iron lady‘s clothes during her work experience at the town’s museum.

“There’s no cleaning that amount of mess off though,” she quips.

When she’s not rollerskating, the professionally trained musician tours around co-operatively run venues such as Bradford’s 1 in 12 club and Sumac in Nottingham.

She performs covers in pubs as a means of income but says that she has had to turn venues down in the past “if their political values are way off mine.”

Music is in Lily’s blood. She grew up in a musical house and both her parents — who still play — were in a band together.

“My dad got me my first electric guitar when I was 11,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t play a single chord until I started going to an after-school group and it quickly became all-consuming.

“I was gigging regularly from the age of 12, playing bass in a few bands. But I didn’t start writing or singing until I was around 14 and became more confident in myself.”

Hugely inspired by songwriter Jeff Buckley, she tried to mimic his intricacy and style. Pearl Jam, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins have all been influences, along with The Clash, Rancid, Black Flag, Bad Religion and Misfits.

Currently, she draws inspiration from promoters like Loud Women, who encourage all-female line-ups at their gigs.

“It’s very necessary and totally awesome,” she says. “In our patriarchal society women need to reclaim space and feel safe doing so.

“While it’s great to have all-female line-ups, it’s just as much about the people who attend the gigs. The atmosphere and safe space these events create makes it more accessible and in turn will get more women involved in music. Girls to the front!”

And she’s inspired by the changing political landscape. The Tories —“every one of their sentences crawls with lies” — are on their way out, “no doubt,” and she found the June election empowering but emotionally draining.

“It woke up the youth and showed they can make a difference. We showed everyone that the Labour Party is a viable alternative and it was the start of something really significant.

This Lily Gaskell music video says about itself:

18 September 2015

A song for Jeremy Corbyn; adapted from a poem by Ian Everett.

The article continues:

“I helped my parents’ campaign in Skegness, where my dad ran as the Labour Party candidate.

“We drove around in his bright red ‘Corbyn Camper,’ with my Mum doing hilarious Thatcher impressions through a megaphone down Skeggy high street.”

No doubt Lily will make a similarly storming appearance at the London fundraiser for the Morning Star on Saturday. Don’t miss!

Lily Gaskell and rap/spoken-word artist Potent Whisper are appearing at the Constitution pub, 42 St Pancras Way, London NW1 on Saturday October 14. The event starts at 7.30pm and tickets are available from maryado2000@yahoo.co.uk, eventbrite.co.uk or on the door.

African American folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, new album


This music video from the USA says about itself:

Americana Music Festival 2015 | Rhiannon Giddens “Waterboy”

Rhiannon Giddens performs at the 2015 Americana Music Festival in Nashville.

By Hiram Lee in the USA:

On the Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

15 April 2017

There are few singers today as powerful as Rhiannon Giddens, and fewer still with so commanding a stage presence. Born February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Giddens first made a name for herself as a member of the folk revival group Carolina Chocolate Drops. In addition to her singing, Giddens is an accomplished violinist and banjoist.

Giddens’ 2015 solo album Tomorrow is My Turn was among the best of that year and featured a striking version of the traditional folk song “Waterboy,” often associated with the late folksinger Odetta (1930-2008). Her latest album, Freedom Highway, will almost certainly be counted among the best of this year.

Giddens wrote nine of Freedom Highway’s 12 songs. In these, she reveals a deep feeling for her fellow human beings, as well as a seriousness about history. Moreover, there is nothing, not one note, on this album that feels self-involved or trivial. That, alone, is something remarkable given the current state of both popular and “indie” or “alternative” music.

Accompanying Giddens’ originals are strong versions of “The Angels Laid Him Away,” by blues singer Mississippi John Hurt, and two songs associated with the Civil Rights movement: “Freedom Highway” by the Staples Singers, and “Birmingham Sunday” by Richard Fariña. The latter concerns the 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which left four little girls dead.

Perhaps the most haunting of the many haunting songs on Freedom Highway is “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

This music video is called At The Purchaser’s Option – Rhiannon Giddens at Augusta Vocal Week 2016.

It was inspired by Giddens’ discovery of an advertisement from the 1830s announcing the sale of a young female slave. The ad mentions, in passing, that the woman has a nine-month-old child who is also available “at the purchaser’s option.” Giddens’ puts herself in the woman’s shoes and sings movingly of her suffering: “Day by day I work the line/Every minute overtime/Fingers nimble, fingers quick/My fingers bleed to make you rich”.

Returning to modern day, “Better Get It Right The First Time,” sees Giddens turn her attention to police killings of innocent youth. She sings: “Young man was a good man/Did you stand your ground/Young man was a good man/Is that why they took you down/Young man was a good man/Or did you run that day/Young man was a good man/Baby, they shot you anyway”.

The instrumentation and arrangements employed by Giddens throughout seamlessly blend a wide variety of influences. On many songs, the grooves of R&B meld with the growling, muted trumpets of 1920s jazz, while old-time Appalachian banjos thump out their always-mournful melodies.

Giddens’ banjo playing has none of the biting twang commonly associated with the instrument today. It has a thick, full sound. She uses slides to great effect in her phrasing. It’s perfect for the flirtatious “Hey Bébé” which resides somewhere between jazz, folk and blues music.

This 2017 music video is called Rhiannon Giddens – Hey Bébé. It says about itself:

“This song was inspired by listening to a whole lot of early Creole music star Amédé Ardoin. I only had one verse when I went to record Freedom Highway with Dirk Powell down in Louisiana — he helped me finish the lyrics and here we are! The bass, drums, and stand-up bass were recorded all in one room … and Alphonso Horne added his genius trumpet to it all, as well as Desireé Champagne on rubboard. Dedicated to the Zydeco dance at O’Darby’s pub in Carencro, LA, and Leroy Thomas and his band.” — Rhiannon

The Hiram Lee article continues:

Freedom Highway and Tomorrow is My Turn before it are a step forward for Giddens. They are superior to her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, however interesting that effort was at times.

Folk music is easy to do wrong. A dull, pedagogical tone creeps into the work of many revivalists. The importance of certain songs is explained and then they are performed in such a way that one never feels this importance in the music itself. They become museum pieces. This is often combined with a silly sentimentality for the “simple lives” of “pure” folk. Period dress and exaggerated “folk” accents are adopted and exploited. It feels like acting, and bad acting at that.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were by no means the worst offenders in this regard, but neither were they entirely immune to it. Giddens appears to have broken free of many of these limitations. She retains her folk roots while singing and performing in a way that feels very much alive and relevant, both traditional and modern.

Unlike many folk revivalists (and occasionally her bandmates) Giddens does not pretend to be less sophisticated than she is. And why should she?