Carolina Chocolate Drops sound sweet in energetic show Friday night at Michigan Theater
Ann Arbor seems to be developing a real sweet tooth for Carolina Chocolate Drops, the old-time string band from North Carolina composed of Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson.
This time, the Drops were riding high in the wake of a Grammy nomination for best traditional folk album, announced earlier this week. They played several tunes from that CD, “Genuine Negro Jig,” Friday night, including the catchy title song, their now-signature “Cornbread and Butterbeans,” and “Hit ’em Up Style (Oops!),” the latter a recent R&B / pop song performed in string band style, with Robinson providing human beat-box percussion.
The trio learned their art, based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, from eminent African American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson, and paid homage to the master more than once during the show, starting with the tune “Old Corn Liquor.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops performing “Old Corn Liquor” live in Grand Rapids earlier this week:
The three members of the group were not only terrific on the traditional banjo, fiddle, guitar and harmonica, they also excelled on the bones and jug.
Other highlights from the new CD included “Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine,” with Giddens soloing on kazoo; and “Cindy Gal,” on which Flemons proved a wild man on the bones. They also reached into the past for a lively version of “John Henry” and the crowd-pleasing “Salty Dog,” on which Giddens broke into a dance that included elements of jazz and swing.
The sad waltz “Short Life of Trouble” was one of the only times the band slowed things down, and the song was lovely, with Robinson’s beautiful voice adding to the edge of melancholy.
What makes this music especially interesting — besides the band’s sizzling performance — is the history behind it. It’s neat to see how the Carolina Chocolate Drops draw from the jazz, blues and bluegrass sounds of the past, mix it up in the present and, in the process, make it their own.
Toes were tapping and hands were clapping Friday night, from the very first tune to the barn-burning encore, “Sourwood Mountain,” with its shout-along chorus of “hi ho fiddle-i-day.” Given the boisterous reception and standing ovations, it’s a safe bet we haven’t savored the last of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.