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Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters – 2019 (Smithsonian Folkways)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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Affirmation takes many forms, but music is one of those that seems best suited to permeating modern society. Hence, with women's struggle for equal standing and the ongoing effort to narrow the racial divide, Folkway's selection of "Songs of Our Native Daughters" is particularly timely and, more than that, essential to the cause. The four women in the band Our Native Daughters - Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell - involved are all on the forefront of the new wave of women auteurs, and as a result, their combined voices make this a powerful, passionate and poignant statement about African Americans eager to assert not only themselves, but their cultural connection to an earlier generation.

Happily, this isn't simply a dry history lesson or didactic delivery of some kind. The songs are, as the notes on the back cover explains, inspired by narratives for the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, some handed down from slaves and others popularized by wandering minstrels. Opening track "Black Myself" sets the tone with assurance and insistence, basic blues that exacts a pointed reference.

The tracks that follow are imbued with a simple, but seductive sway, from the choir-like tapestry of "Moon Meets the Sun" and the call and response verse of "Mama's Cryin' Long," to the fiddling hoedown of "Polly Ann's Hammer" and the simple banjo-based rambles of "I Knew I Could Fly" and "Better Git Yer Learnin'." There's ample appeal evident in each effort, underscored by ambiance, affirmation and the musicians' assertive voices, both singularly and in unison. Naturally enough, there are distinct traces of African ancestry echoed on certain selections as well - among them, "Barbados," the aptly named "Music and Joy" and the cover of Bob Marley's "Slave Driver" - but each of these offerings stay true to its roots by affirming authority and authenticity.

Ultimately, "Songs of Our Native Daughters" makes for a charming revelation, one that's easily enjoyed and fully absorbed. It allows for a pointedly honest perspective and a decidedly compelling one at that.

Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.