Carolina Chocolate Drops: Genuine Negro Jig
It’s just five years since these three guys got together – sorry, make that two guys and one gal – and at that point they were all fresh into the whole business of making string band music. In that time they’ve made a short journey out of becoming one of the most exciting string band revivalists about, and now they’ve produced an album which suggests they could sweep all before them in this whole area of music. Faithful to, but not jailed by the tradition is how they put it, and that is just as it should be.
I first heard of them on a performance for ‘Later with Jools Holland’ when they played Trouble In Your Mind, I believe, with a ferocious energy and at an incredible gallop – virtuosity and enthusiasm rolled into an irresistible package. When I heard the album ‘Heritage’ it seemed a bit one-note to me and I mentally filed it under ‘String band nuts only’. Now I’m going to have to go back to it and see what I missed because Genuine Negro Jig just blows me away with the breadth of their talent and the ambition of their music making. Trouble In Your Mind is revisited and there’s plenty of traditional material given fresh life by their own arrangements – not just the old favourites, either; it’s only Trouble In Your Mind that I was already familiar with, though the likes of Cornbread And Butterbeans and Sandy Boys may be well known to those more aware of the repertoire.
It’s their selections beyond the tradition, though, that demonstrate what these guys are about. An Etta Baker tune, two 1920’s blues songs – they swing ever so gently and humorously on Charlie Jackson’s Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, whilst there’s shades of Billie Holliday about their treatment of Why Don’t You Do Right? – might not be so surprising but how’s about taking on a twenty-first century r’n’b hit, Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style? Or a Tom Waits song, Trampled Rose? Or, the thing that really unlocked this whole album for me, Rhiannon Giddens absolutely stunning performance of the English folk song, Reynadine? It’s as beautiful a performance of this song as I’ve ever heard and it’s beyond me how she sounds so English on this song and so totally imbued by a soulful blues on Why Don’t You Do Right?
The one original song is Justin Robinson’s Kissin’ And Cussin’, which is gently haunting; you suspect there’ll be more original material next time round, ‘cos these guys are developing fast. There might be just the three of them, but by sharing lead vocals and each other’s instruments and by introducing foot-stomping, hand clapping, a bit of jug-playing (do you ‘play’ a jug, or ‘blow’ it?) and whatever else comes to hand, they’re making a noise as big and varied as a band twice the size. Brilliant stuff. A tour of the tradition and a tour de force.
(Join Here) thanks. Editor