Carolina Chocolate Drops: Leaving Eden

Photo: Crackerfarm

A perfect synthesis of old and new on the follow up to their Grammy winning Genuine Negro Jig.

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Leaving Eden

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2012-02-28
UK Release Date: 2012-02-27

Alan Lomax was a renowned ethnomusicologist who took field recordings of Americans playing their regional folk styles. Many of his recordings in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s focused on black rural music. Some songs were recorded in homes, some in prison, some in the work fields and some in concert halls -- altogether, these recordings documented what black music sounded like in the first half of the century and perhaps what shaped rock and roll, modern blues, and other essential American styles. Leaving Eden sounds like a collection of Lomax's recordings. That, in folk music, is high praise.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a young trio of singing string players who play the old-fashioned way -- but with a new energy. Learnt, in part, from the ancient fiddler Joe Thompson, they began with the banjo and fiddle music you might have heard in a 1940s North Carolina dance hall and have since developed a repertoire of originals and traditionals with a wider scope.

The Buddy Miller-produced Leaving Eden begins with an unrelenting fiddle, sawing over banjo and a downbeaten snare drum on "Riro's House", and it rolls right into the slow, solitary melody of "Kerr's Negro Jig". The pair's low-key traditionalism proves to be misdirection as the next track "Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?" explodes with beatboxing, bodran, and bones under a dense mix of banjo, mandolin, and Rhiannon Giddens' soaring vocal sustains. Later, the always impressive multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons pulls triple-duties on the upbeat traditional "Run Mountain", in which he simultaneously plays banjo and fife while singing lines like, "Way up on the mountain / Give my horn a blow / Thought I heard my true love sayin' / I'm coming for my beau." Among Leaving Eden's highlights are phenomenal versions of "Read 'Em John" (a hand-clapping shout-a-long made famous by John Davis and the Georgia Sea Island Singers) and Flemons' arrangement of "Mahalla", a tune that YouTube helped bring to light through the popularity of a video of African guitarist Hannes Coetzee playing the melody with a spoon he's holding in his mouth.

Of all the racket: the violins, banjos, various strings, and percussive poundings -- all the sounds employed by Carolina Chocolate Drops, the one that stands out is the voice of Rhiannon Giddens. Her intonation is as clear as a country night sky and as strong as moonshine. But it's her delivery that's truly potent -- able to lock into a songs emotional energy and express it in full. Her vocal personality ranges from unbridled sass on Ethel Water's celebration of divorce "No Man's Mamma" to intense loneliness on "Leaving Eden". Giddens also proves herself as an excellent writer on "Country Girl", a fasted paced ode to the power of a rural upbringing.

The Chocolate Drops underwent a personnel change when Justin Robinson left the band last year. Multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins was brought into the fold as a replacement, resulting in a sometimes fuller sound on account of Jenkins' chording, where Robinson had played primarily leads and melody lines. Leaving Eden is also augmented by beat-boxer Adam Matta (whose vocal percussion contributes a layer of modernity atop the band's traditional foundation) and cellist Leyla McCalla, who rounds out the recording with a low and mournful wail. All of this equates to a bigger and better sound for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, with more dynamics and more avenues of exploration. These changes are of the upmost importance because the loss of a member -- especially one as integral and multi-talented as Robinson -- typically damages a group in ways that can't be quantified, but in this case, Carolina Chocolate Drops adapted in a way that renewed their energy and advanced their output.

One year ago, the Carolina Chocolate Drops were presented with golden gramophones in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album for their 2010 release, Genuine Negro Jig. But for it's diversity, experimentation, and excellent performances, Leaving Eden is even better.







The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.