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Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind

Carolina Chocolate Drops

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Album Review

To say that Carolina Chocolate Drops are an anomaly in the 21st century would be a huge understatement. Here are three twenty-something African-Americans playing a brand of acoustic, banjo- and fiddle-driven string band music that is nearly extinct today, and in fact peaked in the pre-WWII era. Although a number of Southern-bred black string bands gained popularity during the first half of the 20th century — this band's name pays tribute to one of them, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops — the style is generally associated with Caucasian musicians from the Appalachians, not with African-Americans from the North Carolina Piedmont style, so the emergence of a new group reactivating the tradition is truly a phenomenon. So is the music. This is no novelty; the Carolina Chocolate Drops are serious scholars of this sound and are adept at re-creating it. Two of the members, Rhiannon Giddens (fiddle, banjo) and Justin Robinson (fiddle), are from the Carolinas, and the third, Dom Flemons (guitar, jug, harmonica, percussion, banjo), is an Arizona native. All had established solo careers when they met in 2005 at a North Carolina event called the Black Banjo Gathering. Soon thereafter, coached by octogenarian fiddler Joe Thompson and inspired by Piedmont antecedents such as Dink Roberts and Elizabeth Cotten, they began developing their own take on the traditional black string band sound, not so much updating it as giving it new life. The 14 uncredited (read: traditional) songs on the record touch on ancient blues and country, but to align what the CCD do with either of those branches would be an error. Songs like "Ol' Corn Likker" and "Black-Eyed Daisy" evoke a time and place far removed not only from the present but from contemporary notions of what those genres signify. When the trio plays "Dixie," you're listening not to a patriotic rebel anthem but a yearning, mournful moan. And the purity of Giddens' solo a cappella vocal on "Little Margaret" belongs to an era when music was not something to be sold but something from the soul. The Carolina Chocolate Drops have stated that they are on a mission to keep this tradition alive, and that they do. But they do so not from the staid position of lecturers on ethnomusicology or as strident sociopolitical posturers but as musicians truly in love with this disappearing slice of Americana, more specifically a little known slice of black Americana. That they do it with zeal as well as respect, and that they have the talent to back up their knowledge, is why it works on its own merits, not merely as a historical study.

Customer Reviews

CCD-not the only ones!

I heard CCD on NPR's Weekend edition this morning, and rush right over to iTunes to download their CD. It's a joy and wonder (and fun to boot!), but what a pity that the NPR reporter failed to mention that there's ANOTHER AA string band out there, just as exciting--the Ebony Hillbillies, who play in the NYC subway system (among other places, including Carnegie Hall in early May, 2007). I don't think iTunes carries their CD, but it can be ordered from their website. Now-AA string band fans--isn't it great to know there's MORE than one contemporary group out there?

Great Folk Music!!!

I saw these people live and they were AMAZING!!!! The girl has an awesome voice and it is so interesting when they 2 guys "play" the jug!!!! If they come near you... you have to see them!! You won't regret it! They have great "dance to" music too!

Timeless time machine

I feel like I am part of something special every time I hear these guys. Call me a name dropper, but I worked with Rhiannon Giddens when she was a marketing professional in North Carolina, before going full time with her music. The first time I heard her sing, she, and her friend/ co-worker Cheryse McLeod, held an impromptu performance of a few Italian opera pieces in our office foyer during lunch. No one in the room, except the performers perhaps, understood a word that was sung, but everyone felt was being sung and there were damp eyes all around. It was an amazing performance. So, I started to pay attention to what Rhiannon was doing. I knew she wouldn't be making corporate graphics in Illustrator for long. What I didn't know is that in addition to her ability to sing Opera, she also sang Gaelic, early American tunes, Jazz, Blues, danced, and played a variety of string instruments. When she met her fellow musicians and formed The Carolina Chocolate Drops those of us who appreciate real music got a fine gift. This is what music is supposed to be. Musicians who care about the music they make, not the fame, not how much money they are making. They travel and study and then teach what they learn at their performances. If you haven't seen them live, do so - you will have a blast. I hope that they release a live album - or a studio album where we get to hear the conversation about the songs - similar to The Great Summit with Ellington and Armstrong. Don't miss Little Margaret or Short Life of Trouble.

Biography

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The three full-time members of the string band known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops (Dom Flemons on guitar, jug, and harmonica, Rhiannon Giddens on banjo and fiddle, and Justin Robinson on banjo and fiddle — Sule Greg Wilson sometimes sits in on percussion) met in 2005 at the Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, drawn together by their mutual love of bluegrass, "jass," jug music, and prehistoric country and rock. The acoustic musicians play a lively combination...
Full Bio

Customer Ratings

Contemporaries

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