Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Music out of Carolina
Two new CDs arrived at my house this week, courtesy of the wonderful folks at cdbaby.com. Both are from the Carolinas, both are traditonal music, but there are some important differences.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are young African-Americans (the old codger in the band is 30), two men and a woman, who are part of the movement to reclaim the traditional Black music that has largely been pushed aside for more modern stuff. They play fiddle, banjo, guitar, jug, and percussion, and they sound great. A lot of string band music bores me but this stuff is lively, vital, and bursting with enthusiasm.
It is no surprise that they were inspired by 88-year-old Joe Thompson, a wonderful old time Piedmont fiddler. I saw him a few years at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend and when he performed "Oil In My Vessel" everybody in that huge dirigible hangar/theatre was on their feet swaying and singing along.
The second album is by the 2nd South Carolina String Band. These eight gentlemen met at a Civil War reeinactment and formed into a camp band, just as happened many times over (on both sides) during the real war. This is their fourth album of songs and tunes that would have been familiar to the soldiers in what their excellent liner notes call America's most singing war.
A new treat on this album are parodies that were written by the original troops. These include "Listen to the minie balls" from "Listen to the mockingbird" and the hilarious "Hard Crackers Come Again No More" from Stephen Foster's "Hard Times," a song that is near the top of my folk-songs-I-won't-mind-if-I never-hear-again list.
Oddly enough, they perform "Amazing Grace" and their liner notes never mention it's abolitionist roots. However I was surprised to learn from them that, if you saw the wonderful movie by that name that came out this year, then you heard the wrong tune. The melody we are all familiar with was an add-on, not tne one lyricist John Newton had in mind.
Two very different approaches to our American musical roots, but not a dull moment on either CD.