It's been three years since the Carolina Chocolate Drops made their unforgettable debut with Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind. Where that record was more solidly traditional, its follow-up, Genuine Negro Jig, pulls together elements of traditional Americana with Eastern European melodies and even a mainstream R&B cover tune.
Imaginative Arrangements, Sincere Interpretations
Old timey folk music is so simple, it leaves plenty of room for the person(s) performing it to add their own elements, styles, and interpretations. Plenty of folks can play a tune like "Cornbread and Butterbeans," for example, making it sound like a good time tune. The Chocolate Drops, however, deliver the song like they're sitting across the table from one another, singing over their dinner. It's that element of intimacy, honesty, and reverence for the form which separates their interpretations from that of so many other old timey bands.
On Genuine Negro Jig, the trio doesn't stick entirely to traditional fare, either. They throw in a Justin Robinson original ("Kissin' and Cussin'") and bring the old timey minor key vibe to tunes by Blu Cantrell (an incredibly notable turn on "Hit 'Em Up Style") and Tom Waits (a loungey, somewhat monotonous "Trampled Rose").
Spotlight on Instrumentals
The Carolina Chocolate Drops frequently trade instrumental and vocal duties, and some of the finest moments here come from the straight-up instrumental numbers. Finest among them, unsurprisingly, is the title track "Snowden's Jig (Genuine Negro Jig)." The tune is credited to the same man responsible for "Turkey in the Straw" and various other old timey tunes. However, it's believed that he learned it from an African-American family stringband (the Snowdens).
Here, the band delivers a terrific rendition, with a strong emphasis on the fiddle part, which adds an Eastern European gypsy vibe to the disc, with its thickly laden minor key.
No doubt, some credit has to go to Joe Henry for the production of this album. The tone of the disc is tight and intimate, bringing the listener into the room with the band, rather than merely presenting the tunes. The bottom line is that Genuine Negro Jig was well worth the three-year wait.