Unless you’ve happened across the music of Joe Thompson, or the Old Hat compilation Violin, Sing the Blues for Me: African-American Fiddlers: 1926-1949, you might not be familiar with the long history of African-American stringband music. But this 2006 release by the Carolina Chocolate Drops proves that old-time music surpasses both race and time. The trio is dedicated to carrying on the traditions of the African-American fiddle and banjo music that hails, as they do, from the piedmont of North Carolina. Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind isn’t a museum piece, however: it is, above all else, infectiously fun. “Ol’ Corn Likker” is named after booze and features dance-call vocals—not surprising, since this type of music is social music, made to be played with people, for people. Album highlights “Old Cat Died” and “Sally Ann” both feature a loose, collective feel, and benefit from the addition of harmonica to the fiddle-banjo template. “Little Margaret” acknowledges the a cappella tradition of this genre and showcases Rhiannon Gidden’s vocal strength, while “Dixie” reveals the sheer power of a lone fiddle. The Carolina Chocolate Drops is a young band, but the passion of its performance is a testament to the band members’ respect, understanding, and love of these old songs. Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind is worth further exploration for those intrigued by the rich history of African-American fiddle and banjo music, or for those simply in search of quality old-time music. Moreover, your purchase benefits a good cause. The Music Maker Relief Foundation—the label for this album—is a non-profit dedicated to “helping the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs.”
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