Carolina Chocolate Drops

Carolina Chocolate Drops

In early 2012, Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops released their studio album Leaving Eden (Nonesuch Records) produced by Buddy Miller. The traditional African-American string band's album was recorded in Nashville and featured founding members Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons, along with multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and cellist Leyla McCalla, already a familiar presence at the group's live shows. With Flemons and McCalla now concentrating on solo work, the group's 2014 lineup will feature two more virtuosic players alongside Giddens and Jenkins - cellist Malcolm Parson and multi-instrumentalist Rowan Corbett -- illustrating the expansive, continually exploratory nature of the Chocolate Drops' music. Expect a new disc from this quartet in 2015.

The Chocolate Drops got their start in 2005 with Giddens, Flemons and fiddle player Justin Robinson, who amicably left the group in 2011. The Durham, North Carolina-based trio would travel every Thursday night to the home of old-time fiddler and songster Joe Thompson to learn tunes, listen to stories and, most importantly, to jam. Joe was in his 80s, a black fiddler with a short bowing style that he inherited from generations of family musicians. Now he was passing those same lessons onto a new generation. When the three students decided to form a band, they didn’t have big plans. It was mostly a tribute to Joe, a chance to bring his music back out of the house again and into dancehalls and public places.

With their 2010 Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig—which garnered a Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy—the Carolina Chocolate Drops proved that the old-time, fiddle and banjo-based music they’d so scrupulously researched and passionately performed could be a living, breathing, ever-evolving sound. Starting with material culled from the Piedmont region of the Carolinas, they sought to freshly interpret this work, not merely recreate it, highlighting the central role African-Americans played in shaping our nation’s popular music from its beginnings more than a century ago. The virtuosic trio’s approach was provocative and revelatory. Their concerts, The New York Times declared, were “an end-to-end display of excellence... They dip into styles of southern black music from the 1920s and ’30s—string- band music, jug-band music, fife and drum, early jazz—and beam their curiosity outward. They make short work of their instructive mission and spend their energy on things that require it: flatfoot dancing, jug playing, shouting.”

Rolling Stone Magazine described the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ style as “dirt-floor-dance electricity.” If you ask the band, that is what matters most. Yes, banjos and black string musicians first got here on slave ships, but now this is everyone’s music. It’s okay to mix it up and go where the spirit moves.

“An appealing grab-bag of antique country, blues, jug band hits and gospel hollers, all given an agreeably downhome production. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are still the most electrifying acoustic act around.” -The Guardian

“The Carolina Chocolate Drops are...revisiting, with a joyful vengeance, black string-band and jug-band music of the Twenties and Thirties—the dirt-floor dance electricity of the Mississippi Sheiks and Cannon’s Jug Stompers.” —Rolling Stone

Noah Earle

The jubilee is a season for celebration, an occasion for the freeing of slaves, or a song about deliverance from tribulation. It's a time to memorialize the mixed bag of events that led to the present, looking toward a future that holds no small measure of promise. It's precisely this spirit of hopeful revelry that permeates the tone of Noah Earle's newest release, This is the Jubilee, available April 13th on Mayapple Records.

"My parents always said I was born smiling," says Earle, as he demonstrates that very expression. Despite this reputed natural sunniness, Earle has been known to delve into the dark side of human nature and experience. Both of Earle's previous albums, Six Ways to Sunday (self-released, 2004) and Postcards from Home (Mayapple Records, 2007) found him digging up the roots of his family's musical traditions, along with the detritus of human frailty and hardship. Kelly Knauer of Time Life Books likens the songs on Postcards to "an MRI scan of a troubled brain, or a seismograph of a really bad day in Mr. Richter's world." "As a songwriter," says Knauer, "Earle is a brilliant documentarian, a Ken Burns of the ordinary, a chronicler of American life who turns his unrelenting gaze on small conflicts rather than epic battles." Jubilee, by contrast, finds Noah using his own voice to express a love of life that is contagious to the listener, while avoiding heavy-handed sentimentality and without ignoring the gritty reality that lurks in the shadows.

Indeed, This is the Jubilee stops short of heralding a golden era in which all wrongs are righted and past wounds forgotten. In fact, Earle freely explores such themes as love and loss, religious intolerance, and the end of the world in this collection of songs. Its unmistakable message, however, is that life is worth living despite its vicissitudes. The titular jubilee is not only a proclamation of this fact, but of Earle's having come into his own as a songwriter and musician. "It's strange…I stand by my other records and music I've made in the past as having been sincere and authentically me, but in some ways I feel like I'm just now finding my own direction," he says, "and it's really about time."

Earle was born in Topeka, Kansas, "a good place to dig potatoes." Surrounded by a musical family, he absorbed various strains of influence. His musical involvement began in early childhood when he would listen to the traditional country and country-gospel music that his family would play and sing at their gatherings. When asked about this period, Earle says "I was too shy to sit in the circle with the grown-ups, so I'd hang out in the corner and follow along quietly with my little nylon-stringed mariachi guitar." Between the ages of about 5 and 18 he underwent classical training for piano, voice and violin, and was also exposed to blues and jazz by his dad and another uncle, both of whom performed in a number of bands. By the age of 7 or 8, he had decided that he wanted to write songs, like his uncle and grandfather.

"I really value the Midwestern musical roots that my family gave me as well as the music I discovered on my own" Earle observes, "but I guess the challenge for any songwriter is forging something original that's still solidly rooted and pays due homage to one's forbears. That was my intention with Jubilee…I wanted the earnest joy and clarity that I feel at this time in my life, musically and otherwise, to come through in the music without thumbing my nose or flying any flags."

This ethic is also reflected in the album's production, for which Earle decided to take the reins himself. The instrumentation was recorded in 6 different places, with varying levels of input from the songwriter. "I wanted so many people to be a part of this record who I could never have gotten into one room," he says, "and thanks to the wonders of technology and a few good ears, we were able to get them all on there and still make it sound human."

For the painstaking task of editing and mixing tracks from so many locations into a cohesive whole, Noah called upon veteran recording engineer and central Missouri musical icon Pete Szkolka. "Pete and I spent so many hours together hammering this thing into shape, and my little boy was there for every bit of it, sleeping through endless playbacks or crawling around and trying to pull on all the cables attached to the soundboard. In short, he was indispensable to the whole process," jokes Earle.

Once the editing and mixing were done, Noah sent the tracks off to Brad Sarno in St. Louis, MO, who has a solid regional reputation for the warmth and immediacy of his analog masters. "We could have tweaked the mixes for another year and I wouldn't have been any happier with them, besides getting tired of the songs themselves. Once everything was in Brad's capable hands, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was really pleased with the job he did, and I consider it a good sign that these songs are still fun for me to play."

$15 in Advance $18 Day of Show

Tickets Available at the Door

MINORS: $2 cash surcharge at the door for anyone under the age of 21.

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The Blue Note (MO)


Carolina Chocolate Drops with Noah Earle

Thursday, June 27 · Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM at The Blue Note (MO)

Tickets Available at the Door