Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind

16 Feb

DonaGotA

Four years after the release of this album, the Carolina Chocolate Drops would win a Grammy award for Best Traditional Album, but this is their debut recording  Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind  issued on the MusicMaker Relief Foundation label (MMSERIES #76).

I bought it after hearing the band on my car radio (probably Bob Harris Country on BBC Radio 2) in 2010 when they were promoting what turned out to be their breakthrough collection and I listened to a feature piece about them.  An old-time string band based in North Carolina composed of three young African-Americans – intriguing stuff for someone who was at this time heavily into other trios of old-time specialists (like the banjo-heavy, all-girl, Uncle Earl) or old-time influenced (like the Be Good Tanyas).

As the CD package says “In April of 2005, Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson met at the Black Banjo Gathering, a groundbreaking musical and educational event that was held in Boone, North Carolina. They rapidly discovered a common sense of purpose and after many visits to respected elder fiddler Joe Thompson, the Carolina Chocolate Drops were born.”

The banjo, that quintessentially, country music instrument, almost certainly developed from West African roots and is a reminder of the diverse sources of so much North American music. There are clear links to elements brought over to the original colonies not just by free settlers in New England but, in places like Carolina, by indentured servants and transported criminals from the British Isles in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Alongside these there are the rhythms and  music arriving  from Africa via the slave trade which led on to early jazz and blues – and of course other migrant traditions too.

The great thing about the sixteen songs on this CD is that they celebrate the music of the Piedmont region of the state – which has been shaped by black as well as white musicians and musical influences. All of the songs and tunes are traditional, arranged by the three band members but  the string- band, jug-band sound is influenced by  traditional folk, early jazz, gospel and country. It’s an uplifting mix of banjo, fiddle, guitar and harmonica!

My favourite track is the uptempo opener “Starry Crown” but there are many highlights including “Tom Dula” (aka “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”), “Another Man Done Gone” (a track I associate with the black folksinger and civil rights activist Odetta Holmes) and, most wonderfully, a cracking version of “Little Margaret”. This song/tune is probably better known to scholars as Child Ballad 81 and, to the British folk-rock world, as a variant of  “Matty Groves” .

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