Review: Rhiannon Giddens considers the meaning of home

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STEVEN WINE
·1 min read
FILE - In this Tuesday, July 3, 2018, file photo, Rhiannon Giddens performs during rehearsal for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in Boston. Giddens’ new album, "They’re Calling Me Home,” releases on Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
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Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, “They’re Calling Me Home" (Nonesuch)

Rhiannon Giddens' new album masterfully mixes the music of Ireland, Italy, Appalachia and heaven.

A year of death and lockdown left Giddens thinking about home and all the word means. That inspired “They’re Calling Me Home,” a 12-tune travelogue that shrinks the world by covering lots of ground, with the great beyond always nearby.

Giddens and Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi both live in Ireland and recorded the album near Dublin, which accounts for the set's Celtic underpinning.

Their reinvention of “Amazing Grace” possesses the gentle beauty of the Irish countryside, with Giddens' evocative humming supported by a frame drum and uilleann pipes. On the title cut she's mournful but hopeful, contemplating transfiguration and accompanied by an accordion’s drone, while the somber ballad “When I Was In My Prime” will inspire another round at the pub.

The music never stays in one place for long. “Nenna Nenna” is a charming Italian lullaby, and the 1920s fiddle tune “Waterbound” is performed as a campfire singalong, with stellar support from Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu.

Banjo, viola and whistle further connect the musical roots, as does the powerhouse instrument that is Giddens' voice, her arresting alto vibrato soaring with amazing grace.