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North Carolina-based act, the Carolina Chocolate Drops have since their last record had a change of personnel. In that founder member Justin Robinson has left for pasture new and in his place comes multi-instrumentalist, Hubby Jenkins. A fine vocalist he has the fun of founder members Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens alongside new addition cellist, Leyla McCalla join him for the album and tour dates.
Following in the steps of their last album, Grammy Award winning ‘Genuine Negro Jig’ the Carolina’s have this tine brought in acclaimed Americana musician, singer-songwriter Buddy Miller to produce the first record. It is a knock out too. From beginning to end they probe for new slices of work to accompany their take on traditional African American string band music. For we have lots of banjo, ragtime and hillbilly fare cooked in a skillet over an old belly pot stove. Their music pays homage to the old and at the same time sifts in eclectic strains of hip-hop (hard to believe but it is true) as Giddens sings of being a Country Girl and who, despite living ‘round the world she boasts there is nothing like living in the South. It is this through their affinity to traditional southern ways that the joy is transferred to the listener. The unit are also superb entertainers. Hot as a poker live they are likewise thoroughly entertaining on record and with the likes of ‘Boodle-De-Bum-Bum’ the fact is underlined ten-fold as ragtime and hokum blues meet.
Among the treasures offered we have the sombre, reflective ‘Leaving Eden’ that speaks of meeting your maker and to leave all behind. It also features alongside Giddens’ gentle tones cello and, as a contrast ‘Read ‘Em John’ is an old as dirt African – American piece that is performed a cappella style with only the sound of hand clapping accompanying their fast and furious vocals. Mahalla is a warm, charming instrumental that shuffles along as a beautiful rhythm aids the banjo. Of a sharper feel altogether ‘West End Blues’ is a folklore type affair that speaks of how daddy was a dancing, while the title-track speaks of him going down to Georgia to find work and a whole more as a melancholy feel takes over. Beautiful it is too, and with Giddens sympathetic voice warmed by mandolin and cello etc it is a cornerstone piece. It is on of those songs you grow into the more your hear it.
‘Po’ Black Sheep’ pounds out a tune familiar with the south, and of a time 150 years ago. Hand clapping, knee slapping buck dancing fare where you have fiddle and banjo race head to head (aided by bones). Great stuff. Saturday night barn dance music as performed by those who once lived there. While of a cut and thrust feel there is ‘I Truly Understand’ and ‘Run Mountain’ that features pipes. Plus there is the banjo powered ‘Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man?’ that has Giddens’ to the fore, singing with gusto as the band provided some hot footed picking. Isn’t it great old bluegrass standards gains a new lease of life like this. I can imagine many becoming mesmerised on hearing it when performed live! As for being mesmerised, ‘Pretty Bird’ (traditional) that closes the album is sung, a cappella style by Giddens and there can be few better at doing it in such fashion.
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