It could be heavy stuff, and the titles of the Drops’ albums, Genuine Negro Jig and before that Colored Aristocracy, allude to (and reclaim) a painful past. But the group made a key decision that helps them pick out the positive strands in the music: they have broadened the focus beyond the stringband repertory to include other traditions of the early twentieth-century South, among them blues, jug band and kazoo music, ragtime, and early jazz. Sometimes they play contemporary songs stringband-style, or vocalist Rhiannon Giddens, a powerhouse of a performer, may sing Anglo-Scots ballads. The third Drop, Justin Robinson, seems to come up with original songs that make intriguing use of old-time instrumentation, and he furnishes the beatboxing for the Drops’ bring-the-house-down version of the recent R&B chart-topper “Hit ’em Up Style.”
So the collective Carolina Chocolate Drops sound does not come from any one place or time but is a unique mosaic, with plenty of stories to tell of how African American musicians made their way in a white-ruled world. And, with the whole brilliant, troubled history of American music as their pool of resources, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are advancing by leaps and bounds with their reclamation techniques and coming up with new things in each show. Not to be missed.
[Originally published in December, 2010.]