As a follow up of sorts to her superb solo debut, "Tomorrow Is My Turn," "Factory Girl," a five song vinyl EP released for Record Store Day, doesn't exactly expand any parameters, but does showcase Rhiannon Giddens' remarkable dexterity as both an artist and interpreter of traditional melodies.
Like an earlier work, 2009's "All the Pretty Horses" (recorded with Roger Gold and Mara Shea), it finds her covering a series of mostly obscure folk tunes, but this time it's Giddens' expressive sensibility that comes to the fore. Two prime examples - the hyper scat-fest "Mouth Music" and the sole original "Moonshiner's Daughter" - showcase her talents to fine effect, with the latter sounding like something originally pegged for "Tomorrow Is My Turn" and then possibly excluded at the last minute. The vampish take on the familiar standard "Underneath the Harlem Moon" (originally recorded by Ethel Waters) perfectly suits her ability to blend the classic and the contemporary, while the final cut, "Factory Girl," a somber soliloquy sung to minimum accompaniment, slows the pacing but further affirms her authenticity and intent.
A fine cast of accompanying musicians helps Giddens achieve this level of excellence, with producer T Bone Burnett, guitarist Colin Linden, Punch Brothers Gabe Witcher and Paul Kowert and the ace rhythm section consisting of drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch among those offering instrumental support.
While it may seem a momentary stopgap prior to her sophomore set, "Factory Girl" does carry a certain amount of gravitas in terms of its overall expression. It's also one more reason why Giddens has become one of the biggest breakout artists of the past year.