Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi: There is No Other

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, There is No Other, Nonesuch Records.

Rhiannon Giddens continues to give us albums of wonderful music which can’t quite be pinned down to one particular genre or region. There Is No Other is a collaboration with Italian pianist and percussionist, Francesco Turrisi, twelve songs effortlessly fusing influences from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America. As you might expect, Giddens’s fretless minstrel banjo features prominently, along with Turrisi’s accordion and wide variety of frame drums from around the world. Turrisi has been rightly dubbed a “musical alchemist,” and his accomplished musicianship shines through on this album.

There are lots of minor key, plaintive sounding songs, full of emotion and all utterly beguiling. Rhiannon Giddens is a wonderful singer, classically trained, and her control, tone and dynamics illumine the songs.

Wayfaring Stranger, an American folk and gospel song likely originating in the early 19th century, is one of the stand-out tracks, beginning sparsely with Giddens’s voice and banjo, before eventually Turrisi’s accordion joins in, eventually taking a solo in one of the verses. The arrangement and Giddens’s voice are spine-tingling, as the lyrics contemplate the trials of life and the hope for something better beyond: “I’m just going over Jordan…I’ll soon be free from every trial…I’m going home to meet my Saviour.”

Brown Baby, written by Oscar Brown Jr. is a song of aspiration for a “brown baby” – hoping for justice, safety and plenty. Giddens takes it a quicker pace than Nina Simone’s performance of the song in the early 1960s, but the impact of the song is no less, more than 50 years on, lamentably.

“As years go by
I want you to go with your head up high
I want you to live by the justice code
And I want you to walk down freedom’s road
You little brown baby.”

After There is No Other, a delightful banjo and frame drum instrumental with a distinctly Middle-eastern feel, we get the remarkable Pizzica di San Vito, a lively Italian folk dance, which Giddens sings in a near-perfect Puglian dialect, accompanied by Turrisi’s furious tambourine. Moving eastward, the pair gives us Little Margaret, and English folk song from  the late seventeenth century, before probably the most bluesy song on the album, I’m on My Way, driven by Turrisi’s frame drum, and featuring Giddens on the fiddle.

The album ends with the wonderful, traditional gospel song, He Will See You Through, introduced by Turrisi’s gentle piano, before then Giddens’s voice, full of reverence and inspiration:

“When your path is full of worry, he will see you through

When you feel alone on your journey, he will see you through…”

The “other” does not exist, says the album’s title. We are all together, all part of one another. The various musical world influences and the songs that highlight both separation and kinship combine to remind us of that, in a world increasingly rent by fear and suspicion.

Check out our review of Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi in concert HERE.