Rhiannon Giddens is comfortable performing in many genres. Her previous band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, was a traditional/bluegrass/Americana outfit. Her debut solo record, the extraordinary Tomorrow Is My Turn, reimagines country, soul, gospel and blues standards. Her musical fluencies are many, but in the face of unbearable grief she, like many travelers forced out of the familiar, relies on the universal.
"Cry No More," a new song released solely as a one-take, live video and written in direct response to the Charleston shooting last month, features only Giddens' haunting frame drum, her voice and a choir that echoes her. Its genre delineations apply more to the human condition than to music. This song is about black suffering at white hands, so it's the blues. It's about a distinctly, inescapably American problem, so it's American roots. It's a plea to forces greater than any one person and any one voice, so it's gospel.
Here's what Giddens wrote about her reasons for creating it:
The massacre at the AME church in Charleston is just the latest in a string of racially charged events that have broken my heart. There are a lot of things to fix in this country, but history says if we don't address this canker, centuries in the making, these things will continue to happen. No matter what level privilege you have, when the system is broken everybody loses. We all have to speak up when injustice happens. No matter what.
Grief like a drum, strength like a choir and hope like a single voice rising are the only vocabulary needed — and language anyone can understand.