Carolina Chocolate Drops, Union Chapel, London
Thursday 11 November 2010
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a delicious melding of old with new. The trio, Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, met on an internet forum and, united by their love of banjo music, formed a band.
All multi-instrumentalists, the sound they produce is steeped in bluegrass, jazz and country, but with flavours of hip-hop and R&B. Having travelled the southern states of the US learning old songs, they kicked off their London set with "Peace Behind the Bridge", a song taught to them by a 92-year-old "old-time fiddler".
The rich timbre of banjo overlaid with fiddle and set to the clacking of bones resonated at super speed through the chilly church venue. Flemons on bones clacked, clicked and rattled with incredible skill, his arms raised as he swayed in a bizarre dance to the beat.
The trio switched between banjo, violin, harmonica – and more unusual instruments. During "Old Foreign Liquor", Robinson blew musical raspberries into an empty beer jug, to huge applause; Giddens played a squeaky solo on kazoo during "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine".
Flemons' rapid snare-drum beat was interrupted during "Boatman's Dance" when his drum strap broke, sending the instrument crashing to the floor and leaving him beating the floorboards with equal panache.
The trio paid verbal tribute to the mixture of genres which informs their work. They said that the minstrel songs on their new album, which includes the title track "Genuine Negro Jig", are their way of reclaiming historical black music, "even though it wears an ugly face."
Launching into the old gospel tune "Do, Lord Remember Me", the band turned the set, briefly, into an old-time revival celebration. "Cornbread and Butterbeans" was greeted with yelps and yeeehas from the audience.
The Chocolate Drops ended with a spine-tingling "Hit 'Em Up Style", before the band were dragged back by a stomping audience for two encores.
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