The Giddens Sisters

I Know I've Been Changed

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The Giddens Sisters are the sibling singing duo of North Carolina natives Rhiannon Giddens and Lalenja Harrington, who have literally grown up singing together, although their professional performing careers have taken them down slightly different paths. Giddens, who plays fiddle and banjo in the old Appalachian string band style, is a member of the critically lauded 21st century string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, while Harrington was a member of the a cappella group the Princeton Tigerlililies and has spent time on the national poetry slam circuit. The duo's debut album, I Know I've Been Changed, released by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, takes what both women specialize in and mixes it all together, with the result being an idiosyncratic blend of sparse Southern gospel, old-time banjo reels, and spoken word poetry that feels a bit like an audio version of a family scrapbook or photo album. The flow and sequence are somewhat disjointed, with each sister alternating what she does and tight, spare gospel duets breaking things up in between, but several of the cuts are quite charming and are quietly riveting, including the stark gospel duet opener and title track "I Know I've Been Changed," the Joe Thompson-influenced old-time-sounding clawhammer banjo tune "Do You Remember Me" (actually written by North Carolina songwriter Laurelyn Dossett), the half-spoken, half-sung performance piece "When Billie Sings" (an homage to Billie Holiday), the banjo ballad "Going to Write Me a Letter" (learned from Ola Belle Reed), and the lovely, fragile instrumental banjo version of "Cripple Creek" (learned from Etta Baker) that closes things out. Again, this album kind of jumps around from style to style without an obvious flow, and there is a sort of unsaid casual sad tone to most of the songs, but it's unique and doesn't try to do too much beyond showcase what each of these talented sisters brings to the table both together and apart.

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