In her long season of pandemic lockdown, Rhiannon Giddens worked with her partner in love and life, Francesco Tussiri, on a surprising new album of spirituals. 2021 has been a year in which almost everyone has lost a loved one, or knows someone who has lost a loved one, to COVID-19, and so the reality of our fragile existence has been on our minds more than usual. Contemplating the nearness of death through the lens of the Gospel, Giddens grieves, she memorializes, and she hopes. “Avalon” is just one of many stunning tracks on the album They’re Caling Me Home. 

Speaking with Bob Boilen on NPR’s All Songs Considered, Giddens says the song is “a cross-section of the two main themes … of the record: It’s about home — missing home, what is home — and then it’s also death.”

She goes on:

I find this always happens like I write something. [I] make it, and then think about all the things that it means afterwards. So like, for me, “Avalon” is kind of operating on two different levels: the words, which are sad because it’s talking about a mother or a father who have passed on to the other side. And you’re kind of contemplating, ‘OK, hopefully they’re waiting for me where I’m I’m going to go one day,’ right?

But then there’s this kind of undercurrent of joy that kind of came out in the way that it was written, in the way that we performed it, which I think is the other side of the coin that we don’t always get to. The one constant that we all have is that we will die … and there’s actually a comfort in that. That is something that is not a question.

As her last album — there is no Other — was my favorite of 2019, I suspect that They’re Calling Me Home will end up in my top 10 of 2021 as well

As I discussed in my podcast episode on Flannery O’Connor, and as I discussed with my Literature and Faith class at Seattle Pacific University, there are few fiction writers who have ever shown a greater dedication to the fearsome truth of the Gospel, how it exposes the ugliness in all of us, and how it exposes even more so the immeasurable grace of God. (Disclaimer: Yes, while she was powerfully progressive in her thinking and writing on the subject of race, it is undeniable that the times and the culture in which she grew up tainted her, just as it tainted any other white American in the South, no matter how conscientious they were.)

O’Connor’s writing has clearly influenced the great Nick Cave, and his own storytelling and song lyrics have often been described as O’Connor-esque in the ferocity of their Christian vision. He is an uncompromising writer, and in recent years, in his dedication to truth-telling and honesty, he has taken listeners with him on a tour of grief — grief brought on by the death of his son in a fall. This is the third album in which that subject has been focal. But where The Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen were sonic experiments, Carnage returns Cage to some of the sounds of his earlier work, reconciling a wide range of styles into something whole, coherent, and grand.

This title song is rich with mysterious imagery both harrowing and hopeful.

In a review of the album at Rolling Stone, Kory Grow observes,

Since at least the second Bad Seeds record, 1985’s The Firstborn Is Dead, Cave has been alluding to kings and kingdoms. Then, the kingdom was Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of the inspiration for Cave’s trademark coiffure (and the King of Rock & Roll), Elvis Presley. By the Nineties, on The Boatman’s Call — the record, where Cave finally left guile behind in his search of true love and devotion — the kingdom is finally biblical, a place he hopes to dwell one day with his lover. It’s about as gothic as Christian rock gets. That kingdom is the same as the one on Carnage, though it feels more distant here.