Friday, March 27, 2009

Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson

One of the real delightful surprises in the past few years has been the emergence of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band that embraced a dying tradition. African-Americans have been playing banjo and fiddle since slavery times well into the 20th Century. The Chocolate Drops were mentored by Joe Thompson, of North Carolina, the oldest and last known black traditional; fiddler, and have recorded several albums of old time string band music with many songs that would be at home with a revivalist, old-time string band. Their music led them to appear not only as blues events of the Music Heritage Foundation but on the Grand Ole Opry. The Music Maker Foundation has just issued their most recent recording, “Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson” that was recorded in April 2008 at MerleFest. While its a short recording, its spirited fun as they open with a bit of a jug band flavor on “Memphis Shakedown,” before their rendition of “Cornbread And Butter Beans,” an old timey number and then they bring up Joe who leads off on the fiery“Dona Got A Ramblin' Mind” which was the title track on the Chocolate Drops first album. The addition of bones here gives it a nice feel, followed by a lively “John Henry,” with Thompson handling the vocal. A white banjo player who has been visiting Thompson for nearly four decades, Bob Carlin joins the group for the last five numbers, including “Old Joe Clark,” and “Georgie (sic?) Buck” and the hymn “I Shall Not Be Moved.” They close with a lively rendition of the traditional “Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad.” The value of this live recording is enhanced by making available a sample of Joe Thompson performing, with friends, doing tunes he has performed for decades before a highly appreciative audience. This is available from the Music Maker Foundation’s website,

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