Concert Review - Carolina Chocolate Drops, Guy Davis,
The Egg, Albany, NY, 9/12/10 
By Glenn Weiser
September 23, 2010

Drops of Joy
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Guy Davis
The Egg, Sept. 12

If you don·t think multiculturalism can be fun, listen to the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The Appalachian string-band music that the trio perform so capably is a confluence of African and European folk music that originated on antebellum plantations when whites learned from their slaves how to play the banjo, and in turn taught them jigs and reels on the fiddle (hence the racial slur ·jig·).

In 2005, three young black musicians, Dom Flemons (banjo, guitar, bones) Rhiannon Giddens (banjo, fiddle, kazoo), and Justin Robinson (banjo, fiddle, jug) met at the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., and formed an African-American old-time band. To learn to play this music with authenticity, they studied weekly with 91-year-old North Carolinian fiddler Joe Thompson, who is considered the last black string-band player. Taking their name from the 1920s group the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, they have since made three CDs, and have delighted audiences with their propulsive, polished sound.

The Drops led off with "Peace Behind the Bridge," a tune by Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker. Giddens played clawhammer banjo, Robinson fiddled, and Flemons played the rhythm bones, an instrument dating back to the days of minstrelsy. The sound was at once crude and smooth; Robinson·s fiddle style in particular seemed a relic from a bygone age. Next was ·Georgia Buck,· a well-known old-time fiddle tune learned from Joe Thompson whose title refers to a sexual position. As is common in string-band music, Giddens sang a few snatches of verse during the tune, revealing a clear, agile soprano (she studied opera at Oberlin College before switching to folk music). Another fine offering in the old-time vein was "Boatman," an 1843 song by the composer of "Dixie," Dan Emmett, whose bandmate in the famed Virginia Minstrels, Joel Walker Sweeny, invented the 5-string banjo in 1832 by adding an extra string to the African ·banjar· and replacing the original gourd with a drum.

Athough most of the trio·s repertoire consists of old-time music, they also played two country songs in string-band style. "Jackson," by Johnny Cash and June Carter, became a hoedown in the Drops· hands, and Jimmy Rogers· "Sadie, My Little Lady" a ragtime stomp.

Opening was acoustic bluesman and actor Guy Davis, 58, a consummate entertainer who flashed his thespian skills in between songs with droll stories and asides. He seemed to be singing through a sore throat, but that only added to the grittiness of his sound. Davis· only drawback is that next to contemporaries like Paul Geremia and John Hammond Jr., his guitar playing is rather rudimentary. If he beefed up his chops he'd have it all.

See the article on the Metroland website 
Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2010 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  


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