Trail Mix: New Albums and Rhiannon Giddens

New Albums by the musicians you want to listen to.

Rhiannon Giddens Returns with New Collaboration, Our Native Daughters

Rhiannon Giddens first emerged in the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, a popular acoustic trio that revived the underappreciated traditions of black string band music in the South. She’s since pivoted to a solo career and notably collaborated with T Bone Burnett, Marcus Mumford, and Jim James on The New Basement Tapes, a project that set new music to previously unused Bob Dylan lyrics.

In 2017 Giddens won a McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” which has given her the freedom to explore new creative outlets, like writing the musical score to the ballet “Lucy Negro Redux,” which examines race relations in Renaissance England. This month she’s also releasing a new collaborative album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, a poignant collection of songs written based on slave narratives in American history.

To make the record

Giddens assembled a new band with three fellow roots-leaning black female musicians: blues singer Amythyst Kiah, Allison Russell of Americana duo Birds of Chicago, and folk singer/cellist Leyla McCalla.

“Gathering a group of fellow black female artists who had and have a lot to say, made it both highly collaborative and deeply personal to me,” Giddens explained in a statement on the new effort. “It felt like there were things we had been waiting to say our whole lives in our art; and to be able to say them in the presence of our sisters-in-song was sweet, indeed. I see this album as a part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history of this country.”

The Concept

Giddens developed the concept after reading accounts of slavery in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and adapting parts of the true stories into songs. Members of the new collective also wrote some of the album’s 13 tracks based on generational stories of slavery passed down in their own families. One of Russell’s contributions, “Quasheba, Quasheba,” is about a paternal ancestor who was sold into slavery off the coast of Ghana.

“As we got deeper into the project, into the source material, slave narratives, and minstrel history, I kept feeling the parallels to my own life and experience,” Russell explained.

Songs of Our Native Daughters will be released on February 22 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

5 More Upcoming Albums We’re Excited About

Mandolin Orange: Tides of a Teardrop

Release date: February 1

On the first of the month the North Carolina-based duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz will release their first new album since becoming parents, but life events from the past also inspired the band’s latest batch of emotive, acoustic-based Americana tunes. According to a statement on Tides of a Teardrop, Marlin was inspired to write lyrics about his late mother, who died when he was 18.

“I think her passing was almost the genesis of my writing,” he said. “That was when I really began to find refuge in writing songs. I feel like I tried to find a voice around that time, just because I needed the outlet.”

The group is playing a series of album release shows around the South this month, including stops at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C., on February 2 and the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Va., on February 4.

Carsie Blanton: Buck Up

Release date: February 15

On her latest, Blanton a singer-songwriter from New Orleans via Luray, Va., moves between sultry jazz, soulful rock, and John Prine-inspired folk. Standout “Buck Up,” about staying optimistic in troubled times, features a vocal assist from Oliver Wood.

Todd Snider: Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3

Release date: March 15

Busy in recent years with his psych-jam supergroup Hard Working Americans, the Nashville troubadour hasn’t released a new effort of his own since 2016’s Eastside Bulldog. At press time we didn’t have a track list for the new one, but we know it will be a return to Snider’s folk roots, with mostly minimalist guitar-and harmonica arrangements. The album was recorded at Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin Studios in Tennessee.

Son Volt: Union

Release date: March 29

Alt-country pioneer Jay Farrar returns with his longstanding band’s ninth studio album; a politically charged effort that taps into folk music’s protest legacy, while also making heartfelt calls for unity. Farrar was inspired by his well-stated appreciation for folk hero Woody Guthrie; a handful of songs on Union were recorded at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Also, the album’s closing song, “The Symbol,” was directly inspired by Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”

The Avett Brothers: TBD

Release date: TBD

Details are still forthcoming on the Avett Brothers’ highly anticipated follow-up to 2016’s True Sadness, but we know the North Carolina native sons once again have been in the studio with Rick Rubin. Late last year they also dropped a newly recorded single, the poignant examination of relationship dynamics, “Roses and Sacrifice.”

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