Thursday, September 12, 2013

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig

I have just become aware of this African American group, which is an old-time string band ensemble from Durham, North Carolina, dedicated to the string band music of the Piedmont region of their home state. Their first release was back in 2006, but a friend (thanks, Kathleen!) just told me about them once my love for bluegrass/banjo/fiddle music was known.

Each of the three main members are all multi-instrumentalists, with Dom Flemons playing banjo, guitar, harmonica, kazoo and percussion, Rhiannon Giddens playing banjo, fiddle and kazoo and Justin Robinson on fiddle and autoharp and all contributing vocals. The sound is Appalachian-styled bluegrass with upbeat tempos, nice, southern harmonies, strummed banjos and bouncing fiddle lines. Most of the tunes are covers of older numbers (arranged by the group), but there are some originals, as well as interpretations of newer tunes, such as "Hit 'Em Up Style" (apparently a hip-hop song that I know nothing about, but they include a beatbox, which is an odd juxtaposition to the fiddle and banjo accompaniment) and Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose".

I really enjoy the old-time sound of the group here, and the title cut is quite an interesting melody and the percussion (hand claps, foot stomping and bones) add quite a bit to the melancholy feel of the tune. Rhiannon has a terrific voice, as well, with a feel of an old blues singer ("Why Don't You Do Right" is a real showcase for her talents), with a clear, sweet tone, though she can growl when the song requires it, as well. The gentlemen have fine voices, also, though not quite as distinctively stand-out as Rhiannon's, who at times reminds me of Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span on the more traditional cuts ("Reynadine", in particular).

This is a cool, new look at old-time, acoustic music. Reading about them on the internet tells me that there have been some member changes and they may be moving into a more modern direction, but this record is pretty great.