confused, i am

I am torn by an album that has received very positive reviews – the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Genuine Negro Jig.

If you’re not wired into the minutiae of music trends, CCD is a three person group specializing in the black string band tradition. As I understand it, black musicians had a huge role in early string band music, but got squeezed out of the history books. The tradition almost died, but there are now reissues and revivals, chief among them CCD.

The album is very musical, very pleasant and has one track that is startling fun – a string band version of the r & b monster “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”

But…I’m stuck, (and about to be very unfair). I can’t get it out of my head that I’m hearing the perfect background music for a public radio cocktail party fund raiser, the sort of album that well-heeled folks press on each other with a “You really must listen to this.”

My discomfort is hard to explain: it’s not like the band is stiff or humorless or just reproducing the old style. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It doesn’t strain to be authentic, nor jump at being commercial. It’s perfect.

So why do I find myself asking – what does this music mean? I get the same reaction when A Prairie Home Companion has a musical act on-stage, this sense that something deeply inauthentic is taking place. (And when did that happen? When did PHC go from being a charming, original experiment that drew on an old form – the radio variety show – to something that despite its best efforts sounds like Radio Starbucks? And did the show change, or did the culture or is it just me?)

Maybe that’s it – I changed, though I’m not sure of the ‘from what’ to the ‘to what’ part. If Genuine Negro Jig had been recorded in 1966 or 1973, I’d be falling over myself to buy the Rhino reissue and proclaim it a lost masterpiece. Now it seems too pretty in a rough, offhand way, too earnest and too studied. Sometimes, doing something amazingly cool isn’t enough.

(Editor’s note – God bless good writers and thinkers. See the comment attached to this post for the reason why.)

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One thought on “confused, i am

  1. “…did the show change, or did the culture?”.

    You miss the third option: Did you change?

    When the worst you can say about a musical act is that it’s perfect, and that the culture at large is giving the music a whirl, then all that is left is that your perception has changed.

    Let’s rewrite and perhaps — only perhaps — come closer to the truth:

    “If Genuine Negro Jig had been recorded in 1966 or 1973, [I’d] be falling over [myself] to buy the Rhino reissue and proclaim it a lost masterpiece.”

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