Album Review: Rhiannon Giddens’ They’re Calling Me Home is a timely meditation on the comforts of home

Rhiannon Giddens

I told myself that I wouldn’t entertain pandemic adjacent albums. But, Rhiannon Giddens’ latest, recorded with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, has proven to be an exception. It helps that it’s not an album of songs about sourdough and lockdowns. It also helps that it’s superb. 

They’re Calling Me Home is a timely album, with pertinent themes, thanks to its evocative exploration of the emotions churned up due to our collective situation. The twelve track album revels in a feeling nostalgia – specifically a longing for the comforts of home. There’s also the metaphorical “call home” of death, which has become a tragic reality for far too many this year. 

These overarching themes make this album incredibly relatable and allows for a sense of connectivity. Giddens and Turrisi, may both live in Ireland when not on tour, but the pandemic has grounded them, like it has with so many of us. As such, the two expats used their lockdown to explore the music of their native and adoptive countries. So we find traditional songs like “I Shall Not Be Moved” and “Waterbound” alongside the Italian lullaby “Nenna Nenna”, and “Si Dolce è’l Tormento”. 

It’d been a couple of years since I’d properly sat down and listened to a Rhiannon Giddens record. But, I needed only seconds of opening track “Calling Me Home” to be reminded of what a sublime voice she has. The track, which is written by folk pioneer Alice Gerrard, allows Giddens plenty of room to shine, and is the perfect opener and mood setter. While “Si Dolce è’l Tormento”, serves to remind the listener that Giddens is an opera singer by training. 

All in all They’re Calling Me Home is beautifully understated. There’s the banjo, accordion and frame drums that have become characteristic of the duo’s sound. But then, they’ve also augmented that with viola, cello, as well as traditional Irish instrumental, namely flute, whistle and pipes. Everything, however, is in service to the songs themselves. And, while the album might have been recorded across a short six day period, nothing feels rushed or harried. Instead, the album really seems to be sitting in that sweet spot: not too polished, not too raw; but just right. 

Despite the melancholy and sadness of a number of these songs, They’re Calling Me Home remains an album full of warmth and compassion. Occasionally, there are moments where it begins to feel a bit maudlin; but the pair manage to shift things up on the next track. “Calling Me Home”, “Waterbound”, “Avalon”, “Black as Crow” and their superb rendition of “Amazing Grace” are amongst the album’s highlights. There is, however, little to disappoint here. 

Rhiannon Giddens

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Rhiannon Giddens new album with Franceso Turrisi, They’re Calling Me Home, is out now on Nonesuch.

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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