Following an appearance at last year’s Transatlantic Sessions folk phenomenon Rhiannon Giddens makes a welcome return to the Sage Gateshead to close out her current UK tour.

Tonight the North Carolina based multi-award winning singer-songwriter, fiddler and banjo player extraordinaire portrays the many different facets of her artistry whilst delivering a set which largely focuses on her latest album Freedom Highway.

Giddens is joined on stage by a formidable six-piece ensemble; the majority of which also featured on the record.

Throughout the course of the evening, it feels like with each number Rhiannon Giddens takes the show in a different direction. From the blistering rhythmic instrumental banjo tune “Following the North Star”, through to the Cajun Dewey Balfa cover “Newport Waltz” or the soulful RnB number “Underneath the Harlem Moon” no stone is left unturned.

One of the characteristics which sets the great singer-songwriters apart from the rest is their storytelling ability and this is something which Giddens has in spades. Particularly during tracks like the powerful civil war tale “At the Purchaser’s Option” or the traditional African-American folktale-inspired “We Could Fly”. During the latter of which Rhiannon’s sensational voice is reminiscent of the iconic folk troubadour Joan Baez.

Frequently throughout her 90 minute set Rhiannon pays homage to artists who have inspired her. She comments that when you can see over the wall it’s because you are standing on somebody else’s shoulders. One of the many highlights of the show is Gidden’s spellbinding take on Odetta’s “Waterboy”; her powerful voice fills this acoustically perfect room at the Sage Gateshead.

Giddens also pays tribute to the legendary Aretha Franklin who she regards as ‘the best singer on the planet’. Again Rhiannon does not hold back for one moment during her take on the incredibly soulful “Do Right Woman Do Right Man”.

Although Rhiannon Giddens flies the flag high for traditional music, she also brings her sound right up to date with the huge sounding contemporary number “Better Get It Right First Time”, which is infused in places with the hip-hop freestyle vocals of rapper Justin Harrington.

Giddens closes out her main set with a Pop Staple’s cover and the title track to her current album “Freedom Highway”. Rhiannon frequently uses social commentary to tell the stories that need to be told, and prior to this final track, she discusses the current political situation in the US.

Rhiannon Giddens leaves the stage to a standing ovation from the Tyneside faithful; the entire room up on their feet as whoops of appreciation resonate throughout the Sage Gateshead.

Returning to the stage for a well-deserved encore Giddens jokes that they had prepared something earlier just in case this happened. During the final chapter of this musical tour de force, Rhiannon delivers a pair of breathtaking Sister Rosetta Tharpe covers. She insists that if you don’t know about Sister Rosetta Tharp then Google her, but for this musically educated audience these songs need no introduction.

Giddens closes out the show with a medley of Tharpe’s gospel-tinged blues numbers “Lonesome Road” and “Up Above My Head”, which are segued together seamlessly. The latter of which also sees the audience getting involved with some call and response; the crowd hangs on every word.

Throughout the course of the evening, Rhiannon Giddens traverses a vast musical landscape, her sound is genre-defying and truly timeless. Giddens continues to keep traditional folk music alive whilst at the same time proving that she can turn her hand to anything and do it all well.

Rhiannon Giddens
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Event Date: 28-Nov-2017

About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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