Rhiannon Giddens’ new album They’re Calling Me Home, recorded with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, will be released April 9 on Nonesuch Records. Giddens and Turrisi, who both live in Ireland when they aren’t on tour, have been there since March 2020 due to the pandemic. The two expats found themselves drawn to the music of their native and adoptive countries of America, Italy, and Ireland during lockdown. Exploring the emotions brought up by the moment, Giddens and Turrisi decamped to Hellfire, a small studio on a working farm outside of Dublin, to record these songs over six days. The result is They’re Calling Me Home, a twelve-track album that speaks of the longing for the comfort of home as well as the metaphorical “call home” of death, which has been a tragic reality for so many during the COVID-19 crisis.
They’re Calling Me Home features several traditional songs that Giddens hasn’t played for years, including some of the first old-time pieces she ever learned: “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Black As Crow (Dearest Dear)” and “Waterbound.” The album also includes a new song Giddens wrote, “Avalon,” as well as an Italian lullaby, “Nenna Nenna,” that Turrisi used to sing to his infant daughter that took on new resonance during the lockdown.
Giddens says of Alice Gerrard, the folk music pioneer, who wrote “Calling Me Home”: “Some people just know how to tap into a tradition and an emotion so deep that it sounds like a song that has always been around — Alice Gerrard is one of those rarities; ‘Calling Me Home’ struck me forcefully and deeply the first time I heard it, and every time since. This song just wanted to be sung and so I listened.”
They’re Calling Me Home also includes two well known songs about death: “Amazing Grace” and “O Death.”
The minstrel banjo, accordion and frame drums that have become characteristic of the pair’s sound are well represented on the album, but it’s the viola and cello banjo combination that captures unexpected emotion and intensity. Joining them at key moments are Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu and Irish traditional musician Emer Mayock on flute, whistle, and pipes. Engineer Ben Rawlins was key to the shape and sound of the record while Giddens and Turrisi produced and Kim Rosen mastered.
They’re Calling Me Home is the follow-up to Giddens’ 2019 album with Turrisi, there is no Other (Nonesuch), of which Pitchfork said, “There are few artists so fearless and so ravenous in their exploration.” Giddens earned a GRAMMY nomination (her sixth) for the album, which is at once a condemnation of “othering” and a celebration of the spread of ideas, connectivity, and shared experience.
In the past two years alone Rhiannon Giddens has been profiled in the New Yorker, featured on multiple magazine covers, and appeared in Ken Burns’ Country Music on PBS and Samuel L. Jackson’s Epix series Enslaved, among other appearances. She received the inaugural Legacy of Americana Award at the Americana Awards & Honors, composed her first opera (with a forthcoming debut at Spoleto Festival USA), shared remote performances for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, and was named Artistic Director of the Silk Road Ensemble.
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