DISClaimer: Rhiannon Giddens, Plus Three Discs of the Day

Rhiannon Giddens albumDisClaimer takes a tour through the land of Americana this week and finds a lot to like.

So much so, that we’re giving out four prizes, instead of our usual two. The Disc of the Day honor is divided like an awards show. The Male Vocalist award goes to Tim O’Brien.


Our Female Vocalist winner is Andrea Zonn.


The Group prize goes to The Black Lillies.

The Black Lillies

One name stands tall as the winner of this week’s DisCovery Award. It is Rhiannon Giddens, whose solo CD should be in every home.

TIM O’BRIEN/Pompadour
Writer: Tim O’Brien; Publisher: No Bad Ham, ASCAP; Producer: Tim O’Brien; Howdy Skies
-Best known in bluegrass circles for his role in Hot Rize, O’Brien is also notable as a duet partner with artists such as Kathy Mattea and Darrell Scott. On his solo outings, he is an eclectic stylist, ranging through several roots styles. The title tune of his latest, for instance, is a wry, slightly goofy, blues outing about waking up with a brand new hairdo. It includes trumpet embellishments, yodeling and marimba playing. How’s that for eclectic?

Writer: Lynn Taylor; Publisher: None listed; Producer: Lynn Taylor; Lamon
-This Nashville outfit does regular club gigs showcasing the songs of its leader, who sings in a drawling, raspy, strangulated, soulful bawl. The title tune of its new CD wanders out of yer speakers with woozy, loosey-goosey, tipsy-sounding charm. Dobro and fiddle weave in and out of the mix.

Writer: Robbie Robertson; Publisher: Medicine Hat, no performance rights listed; Producer: Duke Robillard; Stony Plain
-Blues-guitar champ Robillard has recorded his first acoustic collection. Titled The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard, it finds him sampling the catalogs of Big Bill Broonzy, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Sleepy John Estes, The Delmore Brothers, W.C. Handy, Stephen Foster and more. Guests include Maria Muldaur, Jay McShann and Sunny Crownover, who handles lead vocals on this great swamp classic by The Band.

Writers: Cruz Contreras/Bowman Townsend; Publishers: Black Lilly Music / Attack Monkey Productions; Producer: Ryan Hewitt; Attack Monkey
-For its fourth album, The Black Lillies enlisted an outside producer and Nashville guest musicians for the first time. The title tune delightfully mashes together thumping percussion, raucous electric guitar, saxophone, hand claps and soul-sister backup vocals on a rollicking r&b tune. Romping, stomping fun.

Writer: Jim Lauderdale; Publisher: Jim Lauderdale, SESAC; Producers: Jim Lauderdale/Luther Dickinson; Sky Crunch
-Lauderdale’s latest is an ambitious double CD called Soul Searching. One 13-track disc is Vol. 1 Memphis, and the other 13-track collection is Vol. 2 Nashville. The latter is not as “country” as you might expect. It kicks off with this moody, minor-key, rhythm-heavy moan. As you might expect, the musicianship is as outstanding as the songwriting. Also lend an ear to “Black Widow Spider,” “Tarzan Houdini,” “What Do I Know About Anything,” and “Why Does God Let That Happen,” the last named featuring The McCrary Sisters.

Writer: James Hand; Publisher: Slim Hand, BMI; Producer: Deborah J. Perry; Slim Hand.
-The latest by this countrier-than-country Austin artist is Stormclouds in Heaven, a bluegrassy gospel collection. He still sounds like George Jones, but this time he’s surrounded by mandolins and fiddles instead of steel guitars, as this lead-off track attests.

Writers: Charles Aznavour/Marcel Stellman/Yves Stephane; Publisher: None listed; Producer: T Bone Burnett; Nonesuch
-For her solo CD debut, this former member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops applies her liquid voice to songs originated by everyone from Dolly Parton and Odetta to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Patsy Cline. The title tune is associated with the great Nina Simone. Giddens performs it as a languid, haunting, cabaret chanson that thoroughly hypnotizes. Essential listening. Also available on vinyl, by the way.

Writers: Shawn Mullins/Chuck Cannon; Publishers: Roadieodie/Warner Chappell/Chuck Cannon, BMI; Producer: Lari White; Sugar Hill
-I remain a fan. The excellent title tune of this singer-songwriter’s latest collection has him singing in a baritone whisper as it begins, then rising in intensity and volume as the ballad aches even deeper. The cello, steel and electric guitar effects are brilliantly blended. Applause for everyone involved.

Writers: Luke Bulla/Andrea Zonn; Publishers: Redding Theory/Zondrea/BMG Bumblebee, ASCAP/BMI; Producer: Andrea Zonn; Compass.
-This Nashville vocalist, songwriter and musician is best known for backing superstars like James Taylor and Vince Gill. Judging from her new solo CD, she has an address book to die for. Taylor and Gill appear, as do Keb Mo, Jerry Douglas, Mac McAnally, Sam Bush, Alison Brown, John Cowan and Bryan Sutton. Guest Trace Adkins is particularly awesome on the beautifully written “Ships.” The album’s atmospheric title track, “Rise,” has her lilting soprano offering a lyric of hope and optimism amid storm and danger.

Writer: Kyle Frederick; Publishers: Vandermont/Cry Angel/Melody Chief, BMI; Producers: Byron House/Kyle Frederick; Melody.
-This Nashville veteran has recorded in contexts ranging from country to rock. The title tune of his new collection finds is a doomy, urgent, echoey rocker with swirling organ, lumbering rhythm and deep-twang guitar, plus a harmony vocal by Emmylou Harris. Intriguing.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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