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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops at Ladies Lit 12/1

(Originally published on Dec 8, 2010 in the The Collegiate student newspaper at Grand Rapids Community College)

In the musical world of the Carolina Chocolate Drops one kazoo and two curved bones are all you need to make authentic sounds. Then pass around a fiddle, jug, and banjo and you’re all set. This was the musical mission as executed by the Durham NC trio in front of a sell-out crowd at the Ladies Literary Club on Dec 1. The Carolina Chocolate Drops not only entertained and engaged but enlightened and informed on America’s lesser-known musical footnotes. With their old-timey string band presentation, complete with exchangeable instrumentation among members, the Chocolate Drops are one of very few African-American bands (along with NY’s Ebony Hillbillies) performing this time-honored historical tradition. They wasted no time getting into the gospel spirit by revving up “Starry Crown (Chase Old Satan through the Door)” as their first number. Throughout the night each member took a turn mentioning old-time fiddler Joe Thompson as vital inspiration. Fiddler Justin Robinson played the straight guy mostly during the colorful narratives of his band mates. Singer and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens laid it all out during her stunning solo vocal number, the Celtic flavored ballad “Reynadine” from their acclaimed release Genuine Negro Jig. If there was one standout among this talented group it had to be Dom Flemons. Flemons is not only fine acoustic guitar player but he is an absolute master on the bones, a basic percussion instrument that specializes in triplet rolls. In Flemon’s imaginative fingers the bones are transcended from lowly calcium and phosphorus deposits to performance hall-worthy musical devices. One gift of the group is their ability to bring a world music vision to their shows as heard in the reading of “Snowden’s Jig.” The audience response to “Cornbread and Butterbeans” was among the most rousing of the night. Their most modern sounding song, “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” with microphone beats from Robinson closed out the main portion of the show. Demonstrating this genre as an important link to all forms of contemporary music, and now with a sound young folks might relate to, the tradition of African-American string bands seems in good hands. With their enthusiasm clearly unabashed, we should all be grateful the Carolina Chocolate Drops are giving this type of music an invigorating shake of youthful musicianship.

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