MUSIC: Carolina Chocolate Drops at Lupo’s

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


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Class was in session at Lupo's when the Carolina Chocolate Drops came to town.

Class was in session Sunday night at Lupo’s as the Carolina Chocolate Drops provided a crash course in traditional African American music. Their style, which fuses Piedmont Blues, jug band country, ragtime jazz and traditional folk, delighted the crowd. Sounding straight out of a juke joint in Mississippi, (or North Carolina, where the band hails from), their music is infectious.

Carolina Chocolate Drops

With Leyla McCalla’s cello providing a bass line, a number of traditional instruments, including an 1840 banjo and cow bones, brought an authentic feel to the performance. Accompanied by lead vocalist Rhiannon Giddens, McCalla was impressive on a traditional Haitian folk song, Rose-Marie, about a women who falls in love with a “flakey” musician. Giddens, herself, was superb chanting a traditional Scottish song, “It’s Many a Thing I Lack,” which she sung in Gaelic.

The band showed the enthusiastic crowd why they won a Grammy (Genuine Negro Jig, Best Traditional Folk Album 2011). They update classic songs and lesser known field recordings while insuring all have a good time. The audience was clapping and singing along more than once on songs like “Goin’ Down the Road, Feeling Bad.”

The heavy undertow of the blues comes through as well. On the title song of their latest album Leaving Eden (2012), Giddens mourns the loss of the textile factories in North Carolina that once provided jobs and sustained lives:

“No work for the working man
Just one more empty mill
Hard times in Rockingham
Hard times harder still
The crows are in the kitchen
The wolves at the door
Our father's land of Eden is paradise no more.”

While well rehearsed, the band doesn’t lack for spontaneity. When the mic shorted out during “I’m in the Jailhouse Now,“ Dom Flemons took his banjo to the front of the stage, turned his voice up to “10,” and finished the tune to the biggest applause of the evening.

Their Grammy award came in a category previously won by artists such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Not bad company to keep! Showing their range even further, they closed out their set with a rousing version of the Johnny Cash/June Carter classic “Jackson.”

Original Jelly Roll Soul

Original Jelly Roll Soul, from Foster, RI, opened up the night. Their “Roots Jazz” format was well received. With a full horn section and Louis Armstrong vocals, they had the crowd dancing in the aisles. Like so many local acts, they deserve more attention. Check them out on tour sometime.


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