Carolina Chocolate Drops sweetens sound

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

This may be an off album year for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but that doesn't mean they're not fired up about new music.

The African-American string band officially formed several years ago but didn't have its big break through until 2010 when its album "Genuine Negro Jig" won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. That means a lot of fans are still sifting through the band's lesser-known but just-as-solid music.

"We are going to do a mixture of songs from past albums and maybe a couple new things," said singer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens. "We are not really one of those bands that plays everything off the latest album. We rotate music in and out and work in a few new songs we're working on."

And there's plenty to pull from, including the group's last album, "Leaving Eden," produced by Buddy Miller. The magic of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, noted a New York Times critic, is that the members look to reinterpret the classic sound of Southern black music from the '20s and '30s -- string band, jug band, fife and drum and early jazz -- and give it a fresh spin with classic flatfoot dancing and jug playing.

Onstage
Carolina Chocolate Drops with Bombadil
» Where: The Birchmere Music Hall, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 6 p.m. doors, 7:30 p.m. show Wednesday
» Info: $25; all standing in the Flex Stage; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com

And one of the most remarkable points is that for all their talent and popularity, they exhibit almost no pretense.

"I am a singer who plays," said Gidden when praised about her stellar fiddle playing. "I put a lot of my heart in my playing, and as a singer I put a lot of my heart into it. It is whatever instrument is in my hands at the time."

Gidden and the group's other founding member, Dom Flemons, have never been afraid to call upon other musicians to expand their sound. For "Leaving Eden," they tapped beatboxer Adam Matta, Brooklyn-based guitarist, banjo player and singer Hubby Jenkins, and New Orleans-based cellist Leyla McCalla.

Jenkins is now a full-time member of the group; Matta, after touring with Chocolate Drops throughout 2011, will make occasional guest appearances; and McCalla rounds out the band's touring lineup.

"We want to remain true to the roots of how we started," Giddens said. "We're always going to have a string band on our records. But we don't want to just do Piedmont-style fiddle-banjo-guitar tunes. There's more to our musical life than that. We grow in a healthy, slow way that reflects our true development as musicians and as a band."

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Author:

Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner