Real beauty is dangerous. It’s not polished, or passive – it’s raw, and slightly chaotic. At least one half of Rhiannon Giddens’ Tomorrow is My Turn fits this definition: at times it’s as harshly gorgeous as a coiled rattlesnake in the sun. The other half is merely pretty: sonic ear candy that, all in all, probably isn’t very good for you.
The bad stuff first. Tracks like Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind and Up Above My Head certainly showcase Giddens’ impressive vocal delivery, but there’s no risk to them. They are about as safe as music of this gospel/folk variety comes, and pass by without leaving a trace. Title track Tomorrow is My Turn is a slow-burner, but despite its technical perfection, it lacks the hard-won emotional intensity that could have carried it to another level. Giddens sings the song as though it is a set of warm up scales, and the trembling heart that should exist within the song is nowhere to be seen.
Black is the Color is another empty shell of a song, and even its throbbing bassline lacks the sultry tone it so obviously strives for. Even the track’s harmonica solo is oddly artificial and controlled – the harmonica is an instrument capable of dirty, soulful beauty, so to hear it so misused here is a genuine shame.
But all those tracks are examples of Giddens at her worst. When the artist is on fine form, she is unstoppable, and it is easy to see why lauded producer T-Bone Burnett has produced this album. On a good day, Giddens can knock it out of the park, and the album is full of diamonds that shine amongst the dirt of the less-impressive work.
Some would call Giddens overly ambitious to tackle Waterboy, a song made famous by the legendary Odetta, but the song is one of the album’s easy stand outs. It possesses the real soul that is so obviously lacking on the album’s weaker tracks, and the genuine passion on display is exotically confronting.
Oh Love is Teasin’ is full of an intoxicating darkness, with Giddens’ voice swirling around the listener in ever-narrower circles, ramping up the emotion and heart to near unbearable levels. Album closer Angel City is more restrained, but no less beautiful, and its hard won emotional climax is enough to send shivers.
What then, is the final word on Tomorrow is My Turn? It’s hard to say: there are too many missteps here for me to unilaterally recommend the release. But there is something here – something genuinely exciting. My only hope is that for her next release, Giddens focuses on her strengths, of which she has many, and turns in the great album Tomorrow is My Turn hints at being.