On a visit to Tucson I tore myself away from the U of Arizona --- USC game to go hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Rialto downtown. Incredibly high-energy show---you can get an idea of the band's sound from Youtube, but it doesn't really convey the impact of a live show. They are still on tour until October 24th, and the main point of this post is just to say if you have a chance, go. CCD got their start playing traditional or "old-time" African-American string band music. and that is still a large part of their repertoire. The lineup has changed over the years, and I'm no expert on the changes since I'm new to the band. Rhiannon Giddens, the lead singer (who majored in opera as an undergraduate at the Oberlin conservatory), is the only founding member of the band left in the lineup. (I was amused that she felt she had to explain how her name is pronounced---anyone who doesn't know obviously missed the 70s, but I guess that applies to a good chunk of the audience.) The band is extremely tight, everybody is topnotch, and the numbers featuring the other members are just as strong as those (perhaps a majority) featuring Giddens as primary vocalist, but Giddens is clearly the powerhouse. Though her manner when singing is not at all stagey or acted, when she starts making music the star power and charisma are immediately apparent. CCD are currently doing a very wide range of music, much of which will sound familiar but not exactly like anything you've heard before. This is African-American music that is part of the roots of bluegrass and country, coming out of folk traditions that are perhaps not so well known nowadays, but in CCD's hands it's not at all an exercise in scholarly dusting off of "hmm, interesting" musical curios---it's alive for the performers and audience, sometimes with an impact and energy that reminds me of a solid punk rock show---indeed some of the audience were definitely pogoing. Much of the music is full of fiddle and banjo, with Malcolm Parson on cello (and sometimes bones), and Rowan Corbett on a variety of instruments, including bones, guitar, banjo, and I think perhaps fiddle on occasion. Jenkins played guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Parson's cello playing really added a lot to the ensemble sound, and I liked his rare solos a lot too. If I'm not mistaken, Parson, Jenkins, and Corbett all played bones to great effect, with Corbett especially virtuosic. Jenkins did some excellent vocal work, too, and his solo country blues original was superb.
As I said, online video doesn't really capture the impact, but this video of them doing Cousin Emmy's Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man from their current tour does a pretty good job. (I am not sure if this is band-sanctioned, so will remove the link if they request it.) Music starts around 1:34.
They also cover more recent material, like Dallas Austin's hit for Blu Cantrell, "Hit 'em up Style". Here's a video from this tour, though I thought the Tucson performance of this song was harder-hitting:
Not all their songs are on the same topic---it's just coincidence that these are two of the best videos on the toob of the current tour.
They don't play many originals, but the song Giddens wrote reflecting her reading of accounts of life under slavery in the 19th century was powerful.
There's a lot more on youtube, including more old-time music, though not so much with the current lineup. They can sing country with the best---I wouldn't be surprised if they hit the country charts one of these days (or perhaps it's already happened); they do a great job with Hank Williams' Please Don't Let Me Love You:
Indeed, Country Girl sounds to me like a straight shot at the contemporary country charts, solid stuff though quite reminscent of a dozen or so other celebrations of down-home-by-the-crick livin' to be encountered over the last decade on mainstream country radio, with an acoustic backing just as rocking and funky as the typical electrified setting for the genre nowadays and just as deserving of a place there.
Definitely a band to get to know, and I plan to delve into their recordings now that I've had the live experience.