Photo credit: Crackerfarm

23rd January 2012

Since the sad departure of Amy Winehouse, Camden Town has been lacking in award winners. But tonight that’s all changed as Cecil Sharp House strikes a folk-coup, attracting last year’s Grammy winners for Best Traditional Folk Act, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, to its historic stage.

With a refreshed line-up following Justin Robinson’s departure, the ‘Drops’ are now a four strong tour de force. And with a repertoire of American tunes that draws from the 30s – the 1830s – through to modern pop, they have a seriously varied archive from which to select the best musical tricks and turns to captivate an audience.

Rhiannon Giddens, founding member and co-host is perhaps their biggest star. A classically trained singer, she turns her chops to blues, cabaret and modern R&B styles. While the funky chart hit, Hit ‘Em Up Style has long been a crowd favourite, a welcome surprise is a Gaelic language lament backed just by calm strokes of cello and a solitary drum, putting any Transatlantic Session to shame.

Her co-host Dom Flemons has a penchant for minstrel style banjo and quirky ragtime songs and blues. Tracks such as Ben Curry’s Boodle De Bum Bum and Charlie Jackson’s You’re Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine are veritable rarities. And when he flips his guitar, improvises scat vocals, and frenetically clacks his pair of ‘bones’ (wooden blocks played like the spoons), he can be a one-man spectacle to boot.

But Rhainnon and Dom are at their most fabulous when alongside their new band members, Hubby and Layla. Whether they raise a ruckus through sets of old-time dance tunes like Old Cat Died / Brown’s Dream or Was You Ever in Quebec / Candy Girl, or share more contemplative, mellow numbers like Leaving Eden, the title track of their forthcoming CD, the Chocolate Drops put on an outstanding show. Award-winning in fact. They sure don’t hand out those Grammy’s for nothing.