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Carolina Chocolate Drops

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Carolina Chocolate Drops
Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind
(Music Maker)

Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind is a study in contrasts, perhaps even oxymorons. The sounds found on the record are often classified as old-time, yet Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson and are all in their 20s. Furthermore, for the last 70 years or so, the majority of folks making this type of music have been Caucasian. But members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops are African-American, their name a nod to the '20s black string band the Tennessee Chocolate Drops.

Most importantly, an oft-stated goal of the Carolina Chocolate Drops is to educate, but they don't approach the subject of old-time music like academics, and they certainly don't treat the 14 traditional songs on the record like artifacts too fragile to handle. Instead, they handle them with skills and precision passed along through playing with Mebane's Joe Thompson, a living link to the history they celebrate. Unlike cloistered academics, they share the exuberance of musicians on a common mission.

The bulk of the cuts here are fiddle-led tunes voiced by Robinson with harmonies from Giddens (including Thompson's signature song, "Georgie Buck"), ancient in origin and delivery but fresh in personality. Wildcards come in the form of "Little Margaret," given a stunning a cappella treatment by the multitalented Giddens, and the Flemons-sung "Tom Dula," driven by the singer's slide banjo. Sule Greg Wilson, of the Drops' wider-ranging alter ego Sankofa Strings, even adds percussion to "Black-Eyed Daisy," giving it extra whomp.

Put it this way: If all history lessons were this lively and enriching, nobody would ever cut class.

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