5 essential Rhiannon Giddens songs (and a speech) to listen to before her April shows

Award-winning singer and Greensboro native Rhiannon Giddens is coming home to perform – her first concert scheduled in the Triangle since she won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.”

The show is April 14 with a full band at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. Two weeks later, she'll be on the main stage in North Wilkesboro as one of this year's big MerleFest headliners.

Giddens has had an eventful six months, most notably last October's announcement that she had won a MacArthur Fellowship worth $625,000. She also delivered a widely acclaimed keynote speech at September’s International Bluegrass Music Association convention, after winning last year’s Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

Among the many great performances she’s been responsible for over the past decade of so, a handful stand out as worth revisiting.

Consider this your essential Rhiannon Giddens playlist, for now — songs you might well see her perform onstage this month during her swing through North Carolina.

“Hit ’Em Up Style” (2010)

The song, a No. 2 hit for R&B singer Blu Cantrell in 2001, is a sly ode to retail therapy. Giddens sang it with the Carolina Chocolate Drops on their 2010 album “Genuine Negro Jig,” in an arrangement featuring fiddle, banjo, beatbox and incandescent lead vocal. It helped “Jig” win the Grammy Award for best traditional folk album.

“String of Pearls” (2011)

Greensboro singer/songwriter Laurelyn Dossett enlisted Giddens to sing “String of Pearls” as part of her holiday-season song cycle “The Gathering,” and it fits the classical inclinations of her voice perfectly. “The Gathering” premiered in 2011 with the North Carolina Symphony.

“Country Girl” (2012)

A highlight of the Chocolate Drops’ Grammy-nominated album “Leaving Eden,” “Country Girl” qualifies as a statement of purpose for Giddens. As she sings, no matter where she travels, “I am a country girl/I’ve been around the world/And every place I’ve been/Ain’t quite nothin’ like/Livin’ in the South…”

“Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” (2015)

Giddens’ first solo album ranged well beyond the Chocolate Dorps’ Drops’ stringband folk-blues, and some of its most impressive songs are straight-up country. That especially goes for this cover of a 1969 Dolly Parton tune, rendered in a key of defiance.

“Julie” (2017)

Based on a 19th-century slave narrative, “Julie” appears on “Freedom Highway.” It tells a shattering tale that Giddens seems to inhabit as she performs it, giving voice and sympathy to both characters. Stunning.

David Menconi: , 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi


Who: Rhiannon Giddens

When: 8 p.m. April 14

Where: Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

Tickets: $34.33 to $50.41 for non-Pinecone members

Info: 919-664-8302 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com or PineCone.org

MerleFest: For details on MerleFest, go to merlefest.org.

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