Evolution is a strange and perplexing thing. It’s created bees that keep the flowers blooming, trees that keep the air clean, creatures that shift their colors to hide from their predators and blend in among the beauty. So much of nature has grown and changed to work more harmoniously than ever, constantly adapting to circumstances greater than itself. This is why it’s sometimes difficult to understand why one of the world’s most brilliant beings — humans — so often seem to move perilously along a path that’s in the opposite direction of progress.
Rhiannon Giddens’ sophomore LP, Freedom Highway, is about that very road: the road on which we’ve traipsed time and time again with holes in our shoes and weariness in our hearts, but never seem to take those final steps away from our eternal patterns. For every triumph, every leap, there are 10 Philando Castiles to remind us how long the highway to true freedom really is. Giddens tackles this on “Better Get It Right the First Time,” a tale of police brutality laced with punishing harmonies, urgent horns, and a rap that fills in all the blanks. “Better Get It Right the First Time” is a loaded phrase — a word of warning to a Black man who has no room for error when it comes to the police, a mournful recognition of how there are no second chances once bullets fly, and a shameful call to humanity which has had so many damn chances to just get it right. But Giddens didn’t call this album Freedom Highway — after the legendary Staple Singers’ civil rights anthem of the same name — because she’s ready to give up hope. We evolve, highways go on, and, eventually, that first time will finally be our last.