When you go to see a concert by the Carolina Chocolate Drops you're going to find yourself immersed in authenticity. Just from the songs themselves, that range all the way back to minstrel shows from the 1850's to their own original material, you're going to hear a plethora of music that conjures up a bygone era. It's the sound of individuals playing music on a front porch, crowded with friends, and full of enthusiasm as well as a sense of history.
I'm not going to just list out the band's set list because, frankly, I didn't write down every song they played. Besides, their music draws on so many different influences that you'd have to be a music historian in order to really explain all their interesting choices. Suffice to say, they started off with a rousing Joe Thompson tune, “Black Annie”, and never let up. Over the course of two sets they blended in choice selections from throughout their catalog that were always a joy to listen to. Early on, a plaintive and dynamic version of their own song, “Country Girl”, showed their ability to blend the modern and the traditional, while retaining their unique sound.
Original members (and multi-instrumentalists) Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons were joined for this concert by cellist Leyla McCalla and picker Hubby Jenkins. Giddens, Flemons and Jenkins contributed vocally as well as musically, switching axes for whatever was called for by the tune (rib bones, a minstrel banjo, a solo snare drum and a resonator mandolin were among the more intriguing choices). Giddens stuck to the violin for most of the night and provided sweet melodic infusions that neatly played over the top of the rhythms. Flemons took a nice solo turn on banjo during “In the Jailhouse Now”, and McCalla added considerable depth with the different ways she approached her playing of the cello, whether bowing, plucking, or even picking the instrument. Jenkins was also sharp throughout the performance, and did a nice call and response on rib bones with Flemons.
Do yourself a favor and catch the Carolina Chocolate Drops whenever they come into town. The Sheldon Concert Hall is just a perfect venue for their acoustic excursions.