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Carolina Chocolate Drops

Genuine Negro Jig – 2010 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Carolina Chocolate Drops

Authenticity is a loaded subject when it comes to roots music. While the Carolina Chocolate Drops certainly could pass for the real thing at times, theirs is thankfully not a slavish devotion to the black banjo players and string band music that has inspired them. That freedom to improvise and innovate within their chosen style has resulted in this wonderful set of both traditional and contemporary tunes that all share one thing - the enthusiastic performances of the players.

Nowhere is that enthusiasm more evident than in the most modern song here, a version of '90s soul singer Blu Cantrell's Hit 'Em Up Style that proves the classic 'woman gets even' song works regardless of format when a vocalist like Rhiannon Giddens is present, wailing over a vaguely Middle Eastern fiddle break. The other contemporary source track, a banjo take on Tom Waits' Trampled Rose, sounds like it was written as a jug band number a hundred years ago.

Traditional fare gets the Drops treatment as well, with Cornbread and Butterbeans and Papa Charlie Jackson's Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine the best examples here.

The band even includes brief notes on each song, from sources to inspiration for recording each one. Snowden's Jig (Genuine Negro Jig) is explained as being renamed in honor of the Snowden family of black string band players in Ohio, who taught it to Dan Emmett (of Dixie fame), whose written version the Drops first came across before they learned its provenance. Despite its 200-year old origins the melody as presented by Giddens' fiddle is eerily similar in feel to the Blue Cantrell tune, bringing the whole affair full circle.

Therein lies the talent of the Carolina Chocolate Drops - hey make the modern sound fascinatingly antique, and the antique sound positively alive.