Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Album Review: Our Native Daughters - Songs of Our Native Daughters

This project brings together Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell and Tennessee folk singer Amythyst Kiah. Like the Chieftains’ San Patricio, this record is an archeological search of one of the hidden roots of American tradition, and it’s the children of Slavery who are doing the excavation.

The premise that started the project was a retelling of the John Henry legend through the eyes of his woman Polly Ann. This would serve as the basic thread that runs through the whole record: a re-telling of American History by a minority whose voice had until now been left unheard: African American women.

It’s an almost lazy text analysis to pitch this narrative against the current political climate, but obviously this record doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it may tell the story of ancient myths and events but it speaks of its time. Still, this alternative American Gothic transcends topical tropes. 

The booklet is a riveting read for anyone who is interested in American folklore, and gives the listener the necessary context to appreciate the record. The score cannot be separated from the libretto, but for this reviewer but the real treat is the music: authentic organic sounds of banjo, mandolin, Native American percussions are fused with more modern orchestrations like the electric guitar and rock drums. And on top of it all, emotive, powerful voices singing familiar tales from a different point of view.

This fresh angle on Americana contains many highlights, right now my personal favourites are the Polly Ann’s Hammer and the first single Quasheba, Quasheba. But really the whole album is a delight and one can’t help but wonder if there is a way for these artist to present this project live in theatres around the world.

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