The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a contemporary string band trio who, under the watchful eye of mentor Joe Thompson, re-created the look, feel, and sound of a 19th century black North Carolina string, fiddle, and jug band ensemble, crafted their first studio recordings into perfect facsimiles of the group's influences.
The Drops were always at their best on-stage, however, where the gospel stomp of those mountain rhythms and the kinetic energy the band gave off completed the feel of a living, breathing history lesson.
Those old string bands could turn on a dime, and the Chocolate Drops reproduced that art, turning their live sets into a black string band revival show. The studio albums felt like they were a bit encased in glass compared to the live performances.
For this outing, however, the Chocolate Drops found the perfect producer in Buddy Miller, who recorded the band live in a single room, and the result is a wonderfully immediate album that feels like a Saturday night house party-- complete with moonlight, dust flying from the carpet under the feet of dancers, and crickets and night bird calls out the open windows.
The sound breathes, and the Drops shine.
Traditional pieces like "Po' Black Sheep" become stomping revivals, born again in a new century. "Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?" becomes a clawhammer banjo-driven mountain blues, with Rhiannon Giddens' vocal making it seem like Janis Joplin just wandered into the party, a feat she repeats with the album's marvelous last track, "Pretty Bird" (complete with crickets in the background).
The Carolina Chocolate Drops may be intent on reproducing a sound from over a century ago, but they do an amazing job of translating it into the 21st century without diminishing it.
This set feels like a Saturday night throw down under the summer stars. It almost seems timeless, perhaps because it defies time. S. Leggett