Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, "They're Calling Me Home" (Nonesuch)
Giddens and Turrisi are impressive multi-instrumentalists and astute historians, and their albums, together and apart, are lessons in musical and cultural exchange. Their second collaboration grew out of the pandemic: Locked down in Ireland in 2020, they began recording livestreams together.
The "home" of the title is geographic, ancestral and mortal, embedded in the selection of old-time North Carolina fiddle tunes, Italian lullabies, gospel hymns and death-haunted classics ("O Death" and "Amazing Grace"). They add a song that they co-wrote, "Avalon," and "Calling Me Home" by North Carolina's Alice Gerrard.
The arrangements are minimal: often just one or two instruments and Giddens' powerful voice. But the album sounds varied and full because Giddens and Turrisi play an array of instruments, from viola and banjo to accordion and baroque guitar.
From one perspective, "They're Calling Me Home" is a history lesson in cultural cross-pollination. From another, it's an impressive document of versatile musicianship and a showcase for Giddens' remarkable vocals.
steve klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
Leslie Jordan, "Company's Comin' " (Platoon)
The beloved actor ("Will & Grace," "American Horror Story") is now singing hymns and old-time country gospel. His album captures the heart and sass that made him such a viral social media star last year with his colorful vignettes about life in lockdown.
This collection is as star-studded as his Instagram dispatches. Dolly Parton, Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder, Tanya Tucker, Chris and Morgane Stapleton and T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne make cameos without snatching the spotlight from Jordan.
Jordan's vocals, while warm and engaging, aren't the point here. The down-home joy and communal revelry of his performances are a balm for these frayed times.
james reed, Los Angeles Times
• Eric Church, "Heart"
• Greta Van Fleet, "Battle at Garden's Gate"
• London Grammar, "California Soil"
• The Offspring, "Let the Bad Times Roll"