The weather is exquisite, the way late August in Minnesota should be, full of ripeness and languor but not too hot. You want to get outside and hear some quality music tonight, but becoming part of the obesity cattle call at the Fair just isn’t worth the hassle.
A trip to the zoo’s Weesner Amphitheater for the Carolina Chocolate Drops is a shrewd alternative.
If you don’t know these Piedmont music throwbacks, it is time to investigate their old-timey, back-porch fiddle grooves. The charismatic trio has played the Cedar Cultural Center on most every one of their national tours, but at this time of year, the zoo seems like an upgrade.
Or a double upgrade, because, based on the results of this year’s “Genuine Negro Jig,” their third album, CCD just keep getting better. After spending their early material proving they could master the mountain string tapestry of the Piedmont area of the Carolinas — a mixture of Delta blues and pre-bluegrass bango and fiddle that is a frequently overlooked element of black musical history — the trio stretch a bit on “Jig,” without sacrificing either their identity or their essence.
Yes, the Drops are young revivalists, archivists, and prone to indulging in a bit of shtick with their clothing and mannerisms onstage (as I noted in this Minnpost preview of one of their Cedar gigs). But since they play so well, unearth a style that has largely been obscured over the decades, and possess such guileless love for their chosen path, it was easy to overlook the affectations.
It should be even less of an issue now. On “Jig,” frontwoman Rhiannon Giddens twines Dallas Austin’s hip-hop ditty “Hit ‘Em Up Style” around a cavorting fiddle for a rendition that blows away Blu Cantrell’s r&b hit version. The group also tackles Tom Waits on “Trampled Rose” and Giddens goes a cappella on “Reynadine.” While this thrusts the lone woman of the trio a bit further ahead of her cohorts in what began as a more equal division of attention-getting, a generous, synergistic chemistry among them prevails.
Here is a nifty rendition of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” from the group’s appearance at the Sugar Grove Music Fest last year.
Here they are doing “Snowden’s Jig,” with Giddens’ two bandmates accompanying her fiddle with handclaps and hand percussion and tap.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Minnesota Zoo’s Weesner Amphitheater, tonight, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m.; tickets $24.