Digging the new-old roots - Page 2

The Carolina Chocolate Drops take black string-band music back to the mountaintop
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It's certainly baffling that 42 years since Charley Pride's debut was released sans artist photo, one still has to mince around difference.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have more to overcome, seeing as they play an earlier, unplugged form of twang that's light-years away from not only the patriotic-pandering, reheated Southern boogie and suburban soccer mom–and–sippy cup sentiments of mainstream Nashville but also the ambitious incursions of Palmer and Cowboy Troy and the recent bluegrass syncretism of Merle Haggard and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Now sharing management with fellow Carolinians the Avett Brothers, the Drops are garnering just acclaim from roots-friendly media and making fruitful incursions into important arenas, like the annual MerleFest. Yes, the trio are benefiting from both the breakdown of a music industry in turmoil that's reliant on streams from independents and a more reflective moment among media and listeners who have come of age in an era of omnivorous multiculturalism. And let us not discount the Drops' sheer talent and charm.

Nevertheless, as a mere Negress observer, this critic finds her attention inevitably straying to the lack of intraracial institutions to advocate for artists in the Drops' vein — in addition to an infrastructure for developing and sustaining nonwhite audiences' taste for the music. Since, y'know, they're isolated from the rural. (Must Dona be retroactively screwed and chopped?) It would be nice to see the band embraced as part of a continuum by progressive audiences, just as there's some energy around soul-folk as a viable trend. Will the Drops' version of young fogydom garner as much breathless critical attention and community building as the so-called freak-folk scene does? Of course, cross-cultural exchange is possible: current Nashvegas superstar and Troy's boy "Big" Kenny Alphin traveled to Sudan last October to do his bit for the struggle and got the country press to cover his contribution. Now if only the media would turn its attention to the best acolytes of medieval traditions created by Africans not abject but divinely inspired.

THE CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS

Feb. 7, 8 p.m., $18.50–<\d>$19.50

Freight and Salvage Coffee House

1111 Addison, Berk.

(510) 548-1761

www.thefreight.org

CRITICAL 'GRASS

The San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival runs Feb. 1–9. For information on other shows and events, go to www.sfbluegrass.org.

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