Tag Archives: reviews

Review: Seveneves

SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there’s a cardinal sin for a novelist, it’s to fail to recognize when he’s trying to combine too many stories into one. I understand that Stephenson is known for packing in lots of ideas rather than building great characters, and that’s fine. But I was deeply disappointed, after blazing happily through the first ¼ of the book, to find myself marooned in a bog of details one moment and then whiplashed forward to some other subplot in the next as he attempted to drag us all through an Epic Story About The Survival Of Humanity.

He really should have listened to his editor. And if the man doesn’t have an editor with the balls to stand up to him and say, “Dude. Either turn this into a series or cut out half this shit,” then he’s being poorly served by his publishing house.

I’d have to describe this novel primarily as “overwritten.” I am stupidly stubborn when it comes to finishing books so I slogged through 20 pages on a future humanoid setting up her glider. What. The. Hell. It didn’t further the story, it didn’t connect me to the character. It was Stephenson showing off that he’s done a lot of thinking about gliders. Great. Good for you.

The novel’s premise isn’t new, but Stephenson sets it up pretty well. But then the story diverges into too many directions at once. Is this a book about an apocalyptic ending of the earth? about survival? about the role of genetics in determining behavior? about how humans are pretty shitty most of the time? about future space tech? I’m not sure. I think it’s all of those. I call this “Chappie Disease” — potentially good stories are damaged by their authors when they bury them under the other 19375646328 ideas they forced into the narrative.

Mild spoilers ahead:

I have to comment on the odd decision to co-opt character development in some cases by inserting currently famous people into the novel, yet not as their actual selves, but as a weird form of archetype or stock character. Thus, Neil deGrasse Tyson becomes a sort of stereotype of “the popular astronomer” in the form of Doc Harris, a man in the book that I liked quite a bit, but only because I couldn’t escape seeing Tyson’s face, imposing my opinions of him as a real person, and hearing his warm voice. It was kind of creepy actually, as if someone I knew got possessed by a totally different soul. Harris was Tyson but not. Ditto the Elon Musk “tech guy who takes matters into his own hands,” the Hillary Clinton-esque asshole/paranoid woman president (kinda offensive really), and — perhaps the most potentially objectionable — Malala (“Camila”) the Famous International Woman who gets a ride away from death only to be duped by the Evil Female President into hatching her Ridiculous Plan which never shows up again. Gah. The “real” Malala survived the Taliban, and now she’s going to be turned into a foolish, quavering stooge to fit Stephenson’s narrative? >.<

This kind of writing strikes me as lazy. He didn’t have the space (due to the sprawling plot structure) to build his own characters, so he grabbed personalities we would recognize, and hung some new clothes and faces on them. It’s also going to date his novel terribly within a few years. And in 50, no one will get the comparisons.

While I’m on a rant …. Does anyone else find the constant references to genetic predispositions in the new seven races a bit…. racist? I mean, we have races now and through natural processes, differences between them (as we consider specific examples) can be pretty stark. But Stephenson’s races are so stereotypically predictable that I’m actually uncomfortable reading the last portion of the book. If his story-scientists had bred blacks and Asians instead of Mourns, Ivans, and Teklans, he would written about “insatiable, instinctive hunger for fried chicken” or “a strange affinity for math,” and acted like that was totally ok. (It’s not.)

There was a lot of potential here, and Stephenson did build a story that kept me coming back to find out what happened in the sweeping arc of the narrative. I mourned the death of some people, and I was strangely gripped by some of their dilemmas (and bored to tears by others). I’ve learned about orbital mechanics and I understand much better why meteors probably destroyed the dinosaurs.

But that doesn’t make up for the fact that Stephenson’s novel is, structurally, a mess.

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Review: Uprooted, by Nina Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not usually a big fantasy reader, but this book is commendable and ought to be on your list if you’re at all interested in the genre. Many people seem to bail out after only a few chapters; don’t do that. Give Novik the opportunity to spin her tale for you – it takes about 50-60 pages to really get rolling. From there, it builds to a strong ending.

In fact, I’d say even if you don’t like fantasy very much, this novel merits at least an attempt.

This isn’t a fantasy story built from worn-out tropes. While many familiar elements make their way into the narrative, Novik reworks them to give them value. I felt the familiar worn edges of strong themes from centuries of good stories; I saw plenty of familiar fantasy elements. But I also enjoyed the rich and thick development of new meanings for what could have been tired and boring – the girl who learns to control her magic, the aloof wizard, the budding romance, the courtly drama, the forbidding enchanted wood.

Novik turns these tropes sideways so they work to her advantage. She turns the story too, not in a “cheap shot” yank-you-around kind of way, but artfully, shaping the reader’s journey through what seems like a familiar landscape to find what’s actually something new and rewarding.

So yeah. It’s a solid book. It’s up for a Hugo Award. That’s not a fluke. I’ve found myself thinking about this story even after I read the final pages, and I think it’s because Novik understands that good stories aren’t created by the trappings of the setting or by cheap plot devices; they’re built from the backbone of realistic characters grappling with credible problems, clothed in fluid prose. I don’t think this will be my top Hugo pick, but it’ll fall above the “no award” line for sure.

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Delightful Discoveries of 2014

My listicle-gift to you, O Reader, for the new year: Things we loved in 2014, in case you missed them.  (Photo credit, above: This shot of the Denver skyline taken by my friend Mark while we were out there visiting.)

  • Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate.  Oh yes.  Mix it into coffee, or stay on the straight and narrow with for hot chocolate
  • The life-altering bourbon mocha by Methodical Coffee, soon to be opening a shop in Downtown Greenville, prepared by the delightful Vagabond Barista. Seriously tho….

Bourbon Mocha by @methodicalcoffee at ErskineFest might actually change your life. Come get one! #Erskine175

A post shared by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on

  • This recipe for carnitas and this recipe for carbonades flemandes, aka Belgian stew. I’ve been on a mission to recreate that incredible dish from The Trappe Door in Greenville, SC.  Meanwhile, the carnitas have become a monthly staple in our household. Just can’t beat them.
  • Cooperative board games.  Sure, sure, we all have a competitive side, but there’s something so satisfying about collaborating with a small group of friends to beat a game that keeps kicking your butts.  There’s all the strategy and emotion and tense moments without the anger and flipping over of tables…..oh, games don’t go like that in your house? lol — Ghost Stories pits 3 or 4 players against a wickedly difficult series of evil Chinese spirits. You and your ninja buddies battle back the demons for what seems like forever, and when you’re the most bloodied and beaten down, Wu Fang emerges from the deck to kick your ass unless you’re really holding it together. And getting some lucky rolls of the dice. Stunningly beautiful and captivating game. — Pandemic can play up to 5 people as bio-researchers and disease specialists who must stop worldwide outbreaks from 4 or 5 different diseases before time runs out or the diseases massacre humanity.  Each player brings a special ability to the game vital to the success of the group.
  • The joy of an asymmetrical game, where each player pursues a totally different objective.  I’m loving Android Netrunner and Archipelago as two very different examples of this kind of game.
  • Can’t ignore video games – our household plays a LOT of them. 🙂 Gems we discovered in 2014:
    • Risk of Rain:  Want to get smashed again and again, along with your friends, in a brutal co-op that’s somehow fascinating and adorable? this is the game for you.  It’s fantastic. You’ll yell phrases you would have never expected to come out of your mouth, like “I want to destroy that demon jellyfish and send it back to the hell from whence it came!”  (Steam)
    • Transistor:  Gorgeous art style, interesting story, amazing soundtrack (Steam, PSN)

The Hudson

A post shared by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on

A photo posted by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on Jul 7, 2014 at 8:40pm PDT

  • Shoutout to Flagstaff, Arizona, for being beautiful and to Poughkeepsie, NY  (photo above) for being a whole lot cooler than I expected.
  • Shoutout as well to AirBnB for consistently providing us with good places to stay, and to Southwest for hauling us around the country with minimal kerfuffle.
  • Happy discovery of 2014:  Belgian beer is great, actually.  I’ve struggled to find beer that I could honestly say I enjoyed. Then I met Belgian beers (Thanks, John!) and all that is behind me.
    Oh, and in the non-Belgian category, Allegash Cerieux is the best thing I drank all year, hands down.)
  • Authors I enjoyed:  Thomas Pynchon; Paolo Bacigalupi; Octavia Butler; David Drake; Anne Lecke
  • Musical discoveries: Snarky Puppy (so good!) …. Hiatus Kaiote ….. Thomas Giles …. The Bad Plus
  • And, this isn’t a “discovery” for 2014, but I enjoyed a great year of productive work alongside a very fine and fun team of people at my office. How fun are we, you ask?  Fun enough to turn our office and outer corridor into a Whovian paradise for student appreciation day! Here, I’ll prove it:
You can't handle this much coolness. Admit it.
You can’t handle this much coolness. Admit it. You wish you worked here too….

And with that, friends, I depart – leaving you warm wishes for a great 2015. 

Bits.

Sometimes I pretend that disparate ideas can actually belong together in a post if I just throw them all in here….

*****
Ecclesiastes tells us it’s better to go to a funeral than a party but that’s still a hard pill to swallow.

Attended the viewing on Friday of a man I’d not had the pleasure of meeting, though I’d heard a lot of wonderful about him. Cancer took this husband and father of 4 from the world much earlier than we would have wished.

Mused over the barbarous nature of forcing a grieving widow and children to see everyone in the town via a 4-hour marathon.  That’s something I with Southerners would change. My Northern family & friends tend to spread out their grief visitations over 2 -3 days and 4 sessions. Things are more neighborly that way.  As neighborly as you can get at a funeral parlor….

*****
Love is the thing.  Of all the “change agents” that people try to shove into the lives of people around them, the only one that really counts is faith expressing itself through love (to echo Paul’s words in Galatians 5).

There is a sweetness in the life of people who choose to love the messy people around them instead of demanding change, imposing change, enforcing change. You can’t get to someone’s heart through rules, regardless of how destructive you think their behavior is.

*****
There’s a man in my church who worked at Pratt & Whitney on the engines for the SR-71 Blackbird, one of the space vehicles, and the Joint Strike Fighter.  I think that’s pretty cool.  This photo is for him:

SR-71 Blackbird, which greets you when you enter the museum.
SR-71 Blackbird, which greets you when you enter the museum.

Airplanes are sexy. That one is, anyway.

****
859687_1_ftc_dpBlazed through a book today, Death by Suburb by David Goetz.  *shrugs*  It was pretty good. He attempted several good points about the materialism of American suburban life and the way Christians get distracted by their success-driven search for “immortality symbols.”

He correctly identifies that much we do in the name of Jesus is actually for our own benefit — to make ourselves feel better about the world and our place in it, to satisfy an internal need to avoid guilt by paying lip service to community service or mission work, to gain social advantage.  But his suggested solutions struck me as kind of equally kitschy. The chapters center on what he calls 8 spiritual disciplines …. but really the chapters are just full of anecdotes and what seem to me to be random quotes from either a medieval mystic or CS Lewis.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, but if you know of someone who’s blithely living apart from any actual comprehension of how white suburban Christianity is tied to American materialism, maybe this is worth a read for them.

*****
SupperMuch better reading comes in the form of Robert Farrar Capon’s delightful theology-cum-cookbook The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Delivered into my hands as a well-chosen Christmas gift by a friend, I have savored every word. (Pun intended.)

Capon loved cooking – in his Scandinavian-flavored way – and he grasped the sweeping narrative of Redemption history, seeing it in the bones of our existence.  I know it sounds strange, but you haven’t enjoyed the beauty of spiritual reflection until you’ve thrown in a recipe for roast lamb and read about how to pick a good cleaver.

I will leave you intrigued. 🙂

*****
Visited the Due South Coffee Company – finally! – this Saturday, as part of a much-needed trek for rest and not-work. Check out this beautiful place:

An abandoned mill rescued for artistry & coffee - perfect!
An abandoned mill rescued for artistry & coffee – perfect!

August Game Reviews

Been playing a lot more board games lately.   Check these out:

Top picks for August:
Archipelago is a clear winner for me among everything I’ve played this week. It’s a semi-cooperative game that’s like Settlers on crack.  “Semi-cooperative” means the game is definitely competitive because each player pursues a personal objective (win! in a certain way) that diverges from the other players’ objectives, but at the end of the game, each player scores points based on other players’ objectives.  Yeah< I realize that won’t make any sense until you’ve played it but seriously — if you’ve played the crap out of Settlers of Catan and are ready to try something new, especially if you’ve mastered SC: Cities & Knights, then Archipelago needs to be on your list.   It’s all cut-throat and awesome.

Compounded (Kickstarter, now available for purchase) – enjoy chemistry without having to do any actual chemistry. Not sure how educational this is, but it’s fun to play and a well-designed game (both in play mechanic & in printed materials/graphic design). You build compounds in the “lab” using foundational elements like carbon, hydrogen, sulfur.  The chemical formulas for the compounds ARE correct.  Very playable.

Star Realms is a deck-building game and really reminds me of the excellent PC game Homeworld by Sid Meier.  I’d never played deck-builders before, but they use a simple mechanic (collect better cards & trash cruddy ones to give yourself a juggernaut of awesome cards for each round of play).  Don’t let the simplicity fool you – the game demands strategy in addition to the luck of the draw.  This particular game is just gorgeous – the art style for the ships & space bases (your cards) made my jaw drop.  Hats off to the artists here.  We’ve played this both “every man for himself” and co-op, and I enjoyed both.

 

An example of the Star Realms art style (from Kickstarter)
An example of the Star Realms art style (from Kickstarter)

Arctic Scavengers is another deck building game. Technically the first one I’ve ever played so it took me a few rounds to catch on.  A good play.  You build up your deck to accomplish a variety of purposes, including fighting (which nets you better gear or more people) and digging for resources in a junk pile. Since the ultimate goal of the game is to have the most people in your tribe, I like that you have to balance acquiring tools with keeping people cards who might not otherwise seem “useful.”  Just like in real life – the tension that “people are more important than things.”

Also played:

See? Isn't this cool??
See? Isn’t this cool??

Mars Needs Mechanics – this game gets a +5 for incredible steampunk graphic design and a gorgeous overall aesthetic, but a -1 for having somewhat confusing directions, and another -1 for being built entirely on an economic game mechanic. You manipulate a market of commodities via “machines” and player action.  It’s set on Mars but the game does nothing to really expand on what could have been a really cool setting.   However, if you’re looking for a way to teach supply-demand dynamics in a game that’s not otherwise too complicated, this is a good choice.

Sushi Go! wins for being the cutest game EVER.

from http://www.savvyeat.com/sushi-go/
from http://www.savvyeat.com/sushi-go/

Would be a lot of fun for kids – teaches matching, some basic strategy, and appreciation of sushi. Hey, that’s worthwhile.  You collect various cards as you pass your hand around.  Easy.

 

I’m sure we’ll be playing the rest of Jesse’s 50 or 60 games, and adding more. There are also tabletop RPG’s worth mentioning, like the gorgeous Fragged Empire that I just backed on Kickstarter — because #Australia and because #futuristic #cyberpunk  … but that’ll have to wait for another day.    🙂

Time to play some Civ V ….

Oh, and did I mention we’ve got a couple friends developing their own game? Yeah! if you’re in the Upstate, keep an eye on your local board game or comic book store for a playtest of The Specialists. It’s a co-op heist game for up to 5 players, and the guys would love to know what you think!

 

A Hamlet for the looney bin

I love Hamlet.

Really, it’s an addiction. I’ll take Hamlet in nearly any form. I prefer good Hamlet, but I’ll even put up with a mediocre Hamlet just to hear those lines come out of the mouths of people up on their feet acting them out.   I like film Hamlets, live Hamlets outside in the park, college shows, professional shows, even classroom scene cuttings and random student “adaptations” that leave me wondering how the Dane ended up on Mars with a robot Ophelia and a dog. (I made that up, but I bet someone somewhere has done it.)

If you count the NCS production of Hamlet that led me to read the play several times, assistant direct it, learn the part of Gertrude, teach the play to 25+ students, discuss it at length during the show, and watch the play, oh, 30 times at least? during rehearsals, plus 4 performances (peeking out from the back entrance curtain) …. I’ve seen this play a lot.

So when I stumbled across the news that actor Richard Willis would play Claudius in an edgy adaptation of Hamlet at USC in April, I dropped everything, arm-twisted the husband into clearing his schedule, and fretted all weekend that they might sell out before I could rob the box office of 2 tickets to the show.

Photo by USC.  Richard Willis (right) as Claudius with Laertes.
Photo by USC. Richard Willis (right) as Claudius with Laertes.

Now, don’t misunderstand my love of Hamlet for an indiscriminate wanton willingness to love every bastardization of the Bard’s finest.  Hamlet offers such rich material that you can botch it pretty badly yet the story will survive and it’s probably still worth your time, even if you had to cringe in several places.  So after reading a little about USC’s production design, I knew this would be too controversial to remain on the fence.

Robert Richmond, who’s worked with Folger in DC and headed the Aquila Shakespeare Company, helmed this production. That’s how Richard Willis ended up on board to play Claudius, supported by a strong cast of MFA and theater undergrads at USC.

They decided to set the production in an insane asylum. Yup. It’s a crazy idea (haha) but they were hoping to let the setting itself drive home some serious questions about the play’s themes, especially Shakespeare’s shifting perceptions of madness and sanity.

If you REALLY care, check out this mini-preview of the production (if you watch just the first minute, you’ll see a good preview of a scene with Willis)

We “met” Willis in the Warehouse Theater production of The Tempest last fall, which is one of the finest Shakespeare live productions I’ve ever seen.   I’m sure USC was pulling out the marketing machine to get the word out, but honestly the only reason I knew this show was even happening came because Richard Willis posted photos of himself as Claudius on his Facebook page, which I stalk follow.

Photos like this one:

Photo by USC
Photo by USC

Boom. I was hooked.

The Columbia Free Times put up a great review that hooked me in too — you can read a really detailed overview of the production there if you care for like, actual facts.  I’m just rocking the opinions here, with a large dose of memories and nostalgia and Bard-love.

The insane asylum Hamlet production had potential. It really did.  Claudius rocked it, as I expected.  Willis owns the stage and brings all the creepy murderousness that I like to see in Claudius. None of this mamsy-pansy, weak-villain, 1970s-bad-movie-plot, antihero bullshit.

And I gotta give a shout out to the cast, including James Costello as Hamlet, because there were a lot of strong performances. Ophelia went suitably crazy(er); even the dudes who see the ghost in Act 1 Scene 1 kept my attention.   Rosencrantz showed up as a doctor giving Hamlet a physical, which actually worked REALLY WELL.  And they had two guys playing the Ghost, which meant Old Hamlet could totally freak you out by showing up on the other side of the stage supernaturally FAST.

The Ghost spoke through Hamlet, leaving you to wonder whether the whole ghost-dad-thing was a psychosis or a reality. (Old idea but they sold it well.)  Polonius was a lot more sinister than you usually see, implying that he was jealous himself for Ophelia’s sexual attention.  Ok, so that’s creepy and troubled but it’s theater. Everybody has to “do it new”…

But I am troubled.

As a production, USC’s Hamlet delivered some great thrills and chills and atmosphere and  grungy-Victorian-meets-sex-shop costuming. (Corsets and more corsets! I’m surprised the guys weren’t also wearing corsets! They were into straps and belts.)

But it ironed out all the nuance.

(Maybe you can’t have whips, restraints, and insanity AND expect nuance?)

Photo by USC.  Hamlet comes up behind Claudius as he's "confessing."
Photo by USC. Hamlet comes up behind Claudius as he’s “confessing.”

Claudius was super bad, like ALL THE TIME.  He was bad-ass bad, Irish-gang-tattoo, “I’m gonna eat your face off” kind of bad.  It was amazing during the king’s confession scene, where his thoughts ever “remained below.”

Hamlet’s soliloquies got faster and faster. By the end of “rogue and peasant slave,” I wasn’t sure whether they’d cut the lines down or he’d zipped through it so fast that I’d missed some of my favorites.  The entire second half was like a speed-round.  We couldn’t stop and wonder whether Polonius had it coming or got murdered by a hothead.  We didn’t really think much about how Hamlet took away everything Ophelia cared about, regardless of his intentions.  If you missed the one Elizabethan line about R&G getting axed, you probably missed the question of whether Hamlet wears their blood on his hands too.

By the final scene, the duel (which was a good modernization of the duel, the first I’ve seen…. guns just don’t make sense in that scene at all; Richmond turned it into a knife fight) raced by. Laertes took the cowardly cut to Hamlet’s back (not in the script but nobody ever seems to give Laertes balls in casting or action). The lines explaining Claudius’ poisoned pearl had been cut, so I don’t know how the audience was supposed to follow that Gertrude was drinking poison.

In fact, THAT IS MY BEEF with this production.  If you didn’t already know the story, YOU WERE SCREWED.   The asylum setting offered some cool costume & setting perks, but at the cost to the audience. I bet the actors dug out some amazing character insights (and some of those sparkled through during the production).

But the audience was left to unpack not only 2.5 hours of dense text, and all the deep ideas and universal themes of Shakespeare’s words, they had to figure it out without any context clues for who’s who and how they’re related and what the hell is even. going. on.

The final scene of the show closed with the players returning to the stage (the acting troupe from Act 3) dressed in their comic horror-movie clown attire and drinking the dregs of the poisoned cup while Horatio raced through a couple lines. Hamlet in one breath finished his course on stage — “oh i die horatio this potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit the rest is silence.”  The psycho clowns fell over dead. Horatio looked …sad.  Lights dark.  Applause.

It was like getting hit in the head with a hammer.

But hey. It was Hamlet.

[Wanna see pics from our 2007 Hamlet? Album here]

 

Concert Review: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Grace and Tony – @The Handlebar

Had the privilege of watching two great acts in the folk music scene on Wednesday night (March 5) at The Handlebar in Greenville.

First, I must note the unusual demographics:  Other than classical music concerts, which seem to draw none but retirees these days, my concert experiences usually put me in contact with people in their 20s and 30s.  But this show was at least 50% Boomers and older –and I was really surprised.

(Side note: When the retirement crowd forms a major part of your show audience, expect to see a LOT of people going back and forth to the bathroom. That’s what I learned.  Less drinking, more peeing. lol)

Grace & Tony, a husband & wife team, bring quirky humor into their guitar and mandolin music which they call “punkgrass.”  They sing about everything from lost love to pretending to be superheroes, and they do so with a lot of personality & character & fun.

I usually don’t expect to run into Katy Perry tunes at a concert like this, but Grace & Tony covered “Extraterrestrial” and they were all the way into the first chorus before I could name why my brain was recognizing the tune but I was completely confused about this song. ha! A cover!  A punkgrass cover of Katy Perry. It was great.   I’ll take all the punk grass covers they want to provide of radio hits.

Try “November” to get a feel for Grace & Tony’s tunes.

I must also add that one of the coolest things EVER happened to us at this show.  At one point, Grace mentioned that the most adorable 8 year old had gone to their show at the Kennedy Center in DC, and written them a review.  Well, we happen to know that 8 year old quite well. 🙂  She proclaims Grace & Tony to be her favorite band, and I can see why.  (This kid is gonna grow up with killer music taste.)

I was pulling out my iPhone to record anything that happened next (in case it was connected to Infinity) when Tony said, “Are the Rameys in the house?  Infinity wants us to give you a shout out!”

So … uh….. that was cool!

The Handlebar crowd was happy to enjoy Grace & Tony, and I think they picked up some fans that night. But truly this was a Carolina Chocolate Drops crowd – the roar was apparent when the foursome took the stage.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Carolina Chocolate Drops

The CCD are an old-time string band from North Carolina.  They play American roots music — old tunes from the hills, from folk music, from the fabric of American life in the 1800s and early 1900s.  Picture amazing fiddling, fantastic rhythms, legit banjo or guitar, a meld of bluegrass and blues and Irish, all grounded by the rich tones of a cello being played like an upright bass.  And the lead singer’s voice is a knockout!  (So is she. Rhiannon is one pretty lady.)

I love this kind of music because you learn so much when listening at a show. Usually the players will give you the name of the tune they’re about to play and the mentor who taught it to them, or the player whose version is the most famous.  I love that this music is passed down person to person – you can’t just pick up American roots music from a book or formal music lessons. You go to where the masters live and work, and you play with them until the tune is part of you.  Then you make it your own, and the music carries on.

The CCD are passionate about bringing this musical heritage back to Americans — it serves as the foundation for our pop & rock music, but many of us don’t know the tunes or stories, and we don’t come together as a community around live music and dancing like we used to. (Our loss.)   Plus, much of the old American music is rooted in African music –  slaves were stripped of their culture, but they didn’t lose everything. And their fellow Americans were happy to borrow great musical ideas, even instruments (like the banjo) from African music and incorporate it into American folk music.  Rhiannon and her band are working to bring those stories back to mind.

As for the show — well, it was just fantastic.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops are some of the finest musicians I’ve ever seen in person.  Rhiannon can light up a room with her voice — she can be sultry or soulful or playful or on fire, in turn. Hubby, who plays many instruments, took an occasional solo to play country blues, a rough and tumble guitar-based blues that crackles with energy.  And the whole foursome puts everything out when performing – drawing the crowd into the dance of the strings.

The CCDs played for nearly 90 minutes before wrapping up their set. But this Carolina crowd wasn’t going to let them go so easily. The deafening roar demanded two encores from the musicians.  And if you ever get to see the Chocolate Drops live, you’ll be hooked too.