Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Carolina Chocolate Drops concert review and video

Last night I went to a free concert at the Luminato Festival featuring the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the David Peacaut Square behind Roy Thompson Hall at King & Simcoe in downtown Toronto. I didn't realize it until I got there but I was at a 2011 Toronto Jazz Festival concert at this location. The setup is a little different for this as the concert was outdoors and there was rain in the forecast. Fortunately, it didn't rain. Luminato is running free concerts all week and this was one of the two I wanted to see. The opening act was blues artist Corey Harris. Harris is very similar to other contemporary blues artists like Keb Mo but Harris is distinguished by a heavy Jamaican influence. He has recorded for Alligator, Rounder, Telarc and his latest CD Fulton Blues is on his own label. I'm not crazy about his voice but he has a decent band and I liked Harris when he played steel guitar. There were technical issues when the bass player's amp failed and it had to be replaced. Harris was OK but I didn't come to see him. I first heard of the Carolina Chocolate Drops two years ago. The best way to describe them is they are a modern reproduction of an old time string band. Of course most folks have never heard an old time string band so they don't know what I am talking about. It doesn't matter because the group is so entertaining that you won't care what type of music they are doing. CCD have been recording since 2006 and their latest CD Leaving Eden is on the Warner label Nonesuch. They are from Durham, NC led by Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens. Flemons plays guitar and banjo and other instruments along with singing and goofy dancing. Giddens plays violin and other instruments including kazoo and she sings and dances as well. Guitarist Hubby Jenkins joined CCD when original member Justin Robinson left in 2011. Cellist Layla McCalla has joined them for this tour. I don't think she is a full time member. The band has toured with extra musicians in the past. What I like about Carolina Chocolate Drops is they are performing very old music going back to minstrel show music of the 1850s but they are approaching it like the music has never been performed before. That's why their sound is fresh. And Flemons in particular tries to give a sense of the way old time string bands performed. It reminds me of how the cowboy music tribute band Riders In The Sky tried to recreate that music. Anyone could perform those songs but CCD is successfully recreating the feel and authenticity of the old time string band. The funniest thing was when they performed the 2001 Blu Cantrell hip hop hit Hit 'Em Up Style in CCD's old time string band style. Jerry Lawson of the a capella group The Persuasions used to say that any song can be done a capella. I guess any song can be done in old time string band style too. From the moment I learned that Carolina Chocolate Drops was coming to Luminato, I couldn't wait to see them. Most folks at the concert had probably never heard of them. I don't think anyone was disappointed. And the great thing is the concert was streamed on Youtube and you can watch it right here on the blog. Be sure to check it out.

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