Step it up and go!
Acoustic roots music just doesn’t get much more funky, fun or fine than it did at The Egg in Albany on Sunday night, when black string band revivalists the Carolina Chocolate Drops shared the bill with Guy Davis.
The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist members of the Choc Drops captivated a sold-out crowd at MASS MoCA in North Adams just a few months ago, but their long overdue Albany debut was even better – due in part to the intimacy of the Swyer Theatre and in part to the pairing with acoustic bluesman Guy Davis, a perfect match.
The son of acting greats Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Davis opened the evening with some sassy blues and gospel tunes, alternating on 12-string slide guitar and frailing five-string banjo. He also served up Bob Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You,” a fiery Sonny Terry-like harmonica solo (the foot-stompin’ “Did You See My Baby?”) and dead-on impersonations of Charles Laughton and Taj Mahal. No, really…
He also brought the Chocolate Drops out to join him for his final tune. They eschewed the microphones and sat on the edge of the stage – Davis on banjo, Dom Flemons on bones, Rhiannon Giddens on fiddle and Justin Robinson on jug – pumping out a rousing, back-porch rendition of “Shortnin’ Bread” as the crowd sang along.
“It’s community music,” explained Giddens. “If you want to jump right in, just go ahead.” No further coaxing was required.
During their rousing 75-minute headlining set, the Chocolate Drops threw in a delightful mix of Appalachian fiddle tunes, instrumental jigs, minstrel songs, bluegrass breakdowns, ragtime romps and jug band gems. They paid tribute to the legendary string band fiddler Joe Thompson, as well as country-blues pioneer Jimmy Rogers.
Then they mixed it up even further, barreling through the classic Johnny Cash-June Carter Cash duet “Jackson” like they owned it. And going way out on a limb, they completely re-invented Blu Cantrell’s 2001 Top 10 hit, “Hit Em Up Style,” on banjo and fiddle, while Robinson laid down a foundation of beat-box, mouth percussion.
The highlight of the night, however, was Giddens’ sexy blues vamp on “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” a speakeasy jazz-blues ballad in which she sang a spectacular mouth-trumpet solo.
What a sweet, sweet night…
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
(Related stories: Carolina Chocolate Drops preview with video; Guy Davis preview with video; Carolina Chocolate Drops concert review @ MASS MoCA; Dom Flemons, What Was the First Album You Ever Bought?)
Glenn Weiser’s review at Metroland
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
An excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Ancient music can sound like museum pieces in the hands and voices of ancient musicians: the usual way we hear them. But something special happened when the young Carolina Chocolate Drops revived tunes from the 1850s through the 1930s — plus a hip-hop ringer — on Sunday at The Egg, bringing right-now spunk, spirit and skill to antiques.”
CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS SET LIST
Peace Behind the Bridge
Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind
Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine
(instrumental minstrel tune medley)
My Little Lady
Why Don’t You Do Right?
Cornbread and Butterbeans
Genuine Negro Jig (Snowden’s Jig)
Hit Em Up Style (Blu Cantrell)
Sourwood Mountain (with Guy Davis)
Travelin’ Shoes (a cappella)
GUY DAVIS SET LIST
That’s No Way to Get Along
The Chocolate Man
Can’t Be Satisfied
Sweetheart Like You (Bob Dylan)
Step It Up and Go
Did You See My Baby
Shortnin’ Bread (with Carolina Chocolate Drops)