Rhiannon Giddens performs in the Radio Heartland studio

Rhiannon Giddens performs "Lonesome Roads"/"Up Above My Head" live in The Current studio for Radio Heartland. (MPR)
Rhiannon Giddens performs in the Radio Heartland studio (full session + interview)
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  • Rhiannon Giddens performs in the Radio Heartland studio (full session + interview) 32:09
  • Rhiannon Giddens - Spanish Mary (live on Radio Heartland) 05:06
  • Rhiannon Giddens - O Love is Teasin' (live on Radio Heartland) 04:11
  • Rhiannon Giddens - Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man (live on Radio Heartland) 03:57
  • Rhiannon Giddens - Lonesome Road/Up Above My Head (live on Radio Heartland) 05:12

Rhiannon Giddens is a fantastic musician, and she's also an excellent juggler — of musical projects, that is.

With three projects happening concurrently — plus a live gig tonight at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis — Giddens was able to juggle an in-studio session with her entire band at Radio Heartland, hosted by Mike Pengra.

The three projects that keep Giddens so busy include The New Basement Tapes, an album of "lost" Bob Dylan lyrics set to music; Tomorrow Is My Turn, Giddens' new solo album; and Giddens' longtime band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Here are some highlights from Giddens' interview with Mike:

On the collaboration for The New Basement Tapes:
"Everybody wanted the music to win. We'd taken about five band leaders [Giddens, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford and Taylor Goldsmith], a really high-profile producer [T-Bone Burnett], and the music won. I just think it's a testimony to everyone's desire to be there, everybody felt the honor of being there, we just wanted it to happen -- and it did."

On her first project with T-Bone Burnett:
"The first time I worked with T-Bone was when he told us he would like us to submit a couple of songs for The Hunger Games soundtrack, to write Appalachian music 300 years into the future. So I read all the books, I wrote two songs, sent them off, and they made it on the record. It was the first time I had worked in [the film soundtrack] world."

On her new solo effort, Tomorrow Is My Turn:
"I graduated from Oberlin in the year 2000. I've been working away, I've been in this black string band, tirelessly promoting this obscure, forgotten music that is worthy of so much love and energy and attention. … Here's an opportunity to sing. … With this record, it's the same mission as it's always been, which is highlighting music and people who need to be highlighted."

On discovering the music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe:
"I remember being in Edinburgh and looking at CD compilations and going, 'Who is that woman with the electric guitar?' It was a big, box set of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which I've never seen here. It's these European companies resurrecting and pulling out American music … just finding out the history of her, a lot of people say she invented rock n roll guitar, she was just a towering figure, even when she was playing and alive — everybody knew who she was. The fact that she's so little-known now is just mind-blowing, so anything we can do to pop that out there — I mean, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Hello!"

On touring with a larger band in support of these projects:
"We've discovered the joy of the rhythm section. Chocolate Drops never played with drums or bass; we kind of looked down our noses at it. Old-time music … [has] a real different kind of vibe, and you don't want to kill that with the usual drums and bass. Luckily, I found the drummer and bass player who work so well with the Chocolate Drops' music."

Songs Performed

"Spanish Mary"*
"O Love is Teasin'"**
"Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?"†
"Up Above My Head"**
* From The New Basement Tapes album, Lost on the River, available on Harvest Records.
** From Rhiannon Giddens' solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, available on Nonesuch Records.
† From the Carolina Chocolate Drops' album, Leaving Eden, available on Nonesuch Records.


Rhiannon Giddens - vocals, banjo
Hubby Jenkins - guitar
Rowan Corbett - banjo
Malcolm Parsons - cello
Jason Sypher - bass
Jamie Dick - drums/percussion

Hosted and produced by Mike Pengra
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Web feature by Luke Taylor

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