Celtic Connections

Rhiannon Giddens

Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT speaks - or rather field hollers, passionately - volumes for a remarkable artist, that it is a powerful reading of Odetta's Water Boy that has become the calling card of Rhiannon Giddens. Firstly with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now as a solo performer, albeit in the company of fine quintet, led by Hubby Jenkins, Giddens is an expert musical archaeologist with a distinctly feminist inclination, and as keen to promote Dolly Parton's credentials in that department as those of Ethel Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "the originator of rock'n'roll guitar."

But if her erudition and politics are unimpeachable, it is her delivery and remarkable voice (as well as expert facility on banjo and fiddle) that make her one sassy blue stocking. As we have been saying in The Herald for a year now and a packed house clearly appreciated on Wednesday night, Giddens is well on the road to being a major global star of roots music.

A note to the production department at Celtic Connections, however. This performance of Water Boy was not in any way enhanced by the far-from-synchronised lighting with which it was unnecessarily punctuated, and the singer herself later felt the need to mention the excessive stage smoke that went with the presentation in what is already an atmospheric venue. Less of that please.

Jarlath Henderson may be thankful that he was dealt the support-slot's hand in that department, but his move to centre-stage vocals (with less of his expert facility on whistle and pipes) will surely see him headlining festivals far and wide. With a quartet of Hamish Napier, Innes Watson, Duncan Lyall and Andrea Gobbi playing exquisite arrangements, this is 21st century folk-rock, showing fine taste in retro sounds.