From the opening notes of the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ latest record, Genuine Negro Jig, it’s hard to keep one’s toes from tapping to the beat of the percussion bones and fiddle. By the second song you’re looking for a dirt floor and a dancin’ partner.
The three-piece band (Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson, Dom Flemons) is partially an homage to the old-time pickers like their mentor Joe Thompson but they’re certainly not tied to a particular genre or period.
The result is time-honored tunes with fresh arrangements without the distracting scratchiness of early folk recordings with a hearty serving of modern flavor in the form of blues and rock.
Instrumentation is classic: banjo, fiddle and guitar fill the record with an occasional jug, autoharp or tambourine. They trade vocal and harmony duties.
While half of the tracks are traditional, like the jaunty “Trouble In Your Mind,” “Cornbread and Butterbeans” (a song they heard from the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers) and the title track which they’ve named “Snowden’s Jig” as a tribute to the likely author, Thomas Snowden, their takes on newer material especially stand out.
The originally hip-hop “Hit ‘Em Up Style” turns into a gypsy, twenties inspired fiddle tune with unique phrasing and a beatbox. Rhiannon’s smokey, jazzy vocals on Kansas Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right” come both from Peggy Lee’s hit version as well as Jessica Rabbit. Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” is almost spooky with Dom’s smooth singing and staccato four-string banjo and Justin’s fiddle.
The iTunes version of the record has two additional tracks, the kazoo-driven “Memphis Shakedown” and the spiritual “City of Refuge.”