The EP collaboration between the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Luminescent Orchestrii (also featuring beatbox artist, Adam Matta) is easily the best acoustic-hip-hop-stringband-Romanian-gypsy-fiddle-old-time hybrid you’re likely to hear this year. Actually, despite its novelty, this album is probably one of the best releases in any genre you’re likely to hear. In fact, it’s so good I feel a little cheated that we only get four songs from this short-lived musical marriage (I guess it was more like a drunken weekend fling…) With all of the artists involved being exceptional performers, I suppose they realize one of the most important rules of show business is to always leave your audience wanting more. Another rule is that when the performers are genuinely having fun, the audience will too. Well, the good-time vibes are palpable on this disc, starting from the very first notes.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
The opening track,“Short Dress Gal,” is a re-working of a Sam Morgan jazz tune from the 1920’s, albeit with some new lyrics added. It’s an up-tempo jaunt with a thumping, rickety bass line and the EP’s most straightforward tip of the hat to hip-hop (including straight-up rhymes from fiddler Justin Robinson [correction: Adam Matta] in the second verse.) It’s also a reminder that hip-hop is most certainly a folk form, born as a social music in the streets. Like so many folk musicians, early practitioners of hip-hop were often forced to make due with what was available to them, hence the invention of beat-boxing to provide a steady rhythm when no drums or machines were available. Adam Matta carries the tradition forward using nothing but his mouth and a microphone to provide beats, faux record scratches, and even “trumpet” fills. It seems obvious to me that the ancestral antecedent to beat-boxing is the ceramic jug providing deep bass notes in the string bands of yore, further evidence of unlikely intersections between musical forms seemingly worlds apart. As the EP continues, this cross-pollination between styles, influences, continents, and cultures becomes even more prevalent, though no less organic and alluring.
The Lumiis get the spotlight in the album’s second track, “Escoutas (Diga Diga Diga.)” Opening with a fiddle riff somewhere between Appalachia and Romania, the song soon dives into chanted lyrics in a language I’m embarrassed to say I cannot pinpoint, even with a half-hearted google search. Throughout the verses, competing licks from resonator guitar and banjo keep the rollicking stomp moving forward before the fiddle jumps back in on a chorus that builds to boisterous musical shouts. I have no idea what the song is about but given the aura of celebratory conviction, I’m in 100% agreement nonetheless.
The Chocolate Drops won legions of fans with their stringband adaptation of Blu Cantrell’s 90’s R&B chart topper, “Hit ‘Em Up Style” on their latest album, Genuine Negro Jig. It also showcased the band’s restless spirit and desire to move the music they love in new directions. With the tune’s reworking on this album, Luminescent Orchestrii help blaze the trail a little further still. This version has a slightly darker feel with the inclusion of Eastern European flavors, especially in some of the melancholy, lilting fiddle lines.
The final track, “Knockin’” is a sultry tune that teases its melodies forward with the patience of a knowing seductress. The gloriously indulgent vocal glissandos somehow manage to make refrigerated chicken and leftover wine sound erotic as all hell. The bridge provides a delicious release of urgent fiddle riffs, much like an overheated bystander swiping a handkerchief at his brow during an arousing burlesque performance. The song proves that double entendres and subtler expressions of carnal desire are infinitely sexier than the boringly explicit booty tunes so prevalent in contemporary pop music. This is certainly no pop album, despite the fact it deserves widespread acclaim.
More than anything, this collaboration is a tribute to the power of music to bring people together. This is social music, made for backyard barbecues in the country, rooftop romps in the city, and block parties the world over. No matter the locale, put on this disc and folk will be dancing, laughing, and, if they're lucky, maybe even sharing some chicken and wine later in the night.
Dustin Ogdin is a freelance writer and journalist based in Nashville, TN. His work has been featured by MTV News, the Associated Press, and various other stops in the vast environs of the world wide web. His personal blog and home base is Ear•Tyme Music. Click below to read more and network with Dustin.