taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes

— Bones for Tinder

Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder Justin Robinson’s outright split last year from the Grammy-winning string band might have been surprising on some level, but it’s hard to blame for going out on top. The Durham trio had just realized the highest practical level of artistic achievement that a group of African American, old-time revivalists can attain though Genuine Negro Jig and, outside of maybe another Grammy several years down the line, there was nothing left to do but tour, tour, tour. Robinson was pretty clear that he didn’t want that. In an interview with YES! Weekly in February 2010 during the band’s UK tour, he stated that he had turned some of his attention to a solo project called Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes (then mistakenly printed as “Marionettes”). With the Chocolate Drops having also moved on with a new album out earlier this week, Robinson’s Mary Annettes debut Bones for Tinder shows him indulging in the prochronistic interpretations of black traditional music that the Chocolate Drops occasionally hinted at. The group, built around a backing trio of multi-instrumentalists and a percussionist, is described by Robinson as post-Civil War hip hop, essentially integrating the entire black musical experience since the Emancipation under a single, contemporized banner. It’s not as complicated as that might imply, however.

References to petticoats and crinolines accompany a jarring “uh-huh” in “Bright Diamonds” as Robinson delivers the tense but soulful narrative. Here, the old-timey exists within a contemporary context. The writhing groove underneath “Devil’s Teeth” could drive a boogaloo as easily as it could command a promenade, and the casual vulgarity lends a degree of street cred that escapes most old-time circles.

Robinson’s oh-so subtle take on party hyping on “Ships and Verses” references Janet Jackson, Shakira and walking it out amidst strumming banjos, busting minuets and buck-and-wings. His third recording of “Kissin’ and Cussin’” is his most languorous, instilling a gothic unrest that doesn’t gently swing and sway like the CCD and Birds or Monsters versions. While the Chocolate Drops have expanded their scope with the addition of two members to replace Robinson, this is a rare case when all parties are better off after a split, and that includes the listeners.


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