[Album]: Leaving Eden
[Artist]: Carolina Chocolate Drops
Overall Grade/Rating: 9/10
Subject Matter: A
Replay Value: A
Fav Songs: Read ‘Em John, Riro’s House, Mahalla, West End Blues, Po’ Black Sheep, Ruby Are You Mad at Your Man?
Least Fav Songs: Briggs’ Corn Shucking Jig/Camptown Hornpipe
Play or Nay: Play
Critique: I don’t have a big history with the genre of bluegrass. The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack is fantastic and I love Alison Krauss. Outside of that, the genre just has not done very much for me. Until I stumbled upon the Grammy-winning band Carolina Chocolate Drops. An old-time string band from Durham, North Carolina. What was it about this band that hooked me in? They’re just brilliant musicians.
Their 2012 album, Leaving Eden, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard from the genre. Maybe that can be chalked up to ignorance on my part, but nonetheless, it is splendid. From the very first track, “Rio’s House,” the album takes off with high energy. There is so much enthusiasm within the instrumentation on this track, again, something I had just never heard in this genre.
Throughout the album, all of the musicianship is top-notch. You’ve got Adam Matta doing beatbox and playing the tambourine. Multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins, who’s got the guitar, mandolin, 5-string banjo as well as the bones. Dom Flemons doing some great work on the snare drum, bass drum, bones, 4-string banjo, jug, quills as well as guitar. Leyla McCalla playing the cello. Then there is the lead singer, violinist, banjo player and founding member Rhiannon Giddens. And the album features appearances from other musicians, with the help of producer Buddy Miller.
The album features a nice amount of fun, upbeat tracks, with songs expelling more emotion and melancholy. My favorite song on the album, “Read ‘Em John,” sounds almost like a hymn. Also, it simply features handclaps providing the rhythm. It’s a song inspired by the importance of being able to read. Some African-Americans did not know they were free, after Lincoln declared slavery illegal, because they could not read. The song is simple. Furthermore, that simplicity is part of its beauty.
There are many other tracks that stand out, simply because of production and musicianship. “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” features glorious vocals and Matta’s fantastic beatboxing, making for a fun romp of a song. “Mahalla” is a wonderful instrumental, with just a banjo playing a nice little tune. “Country Girl” is a beautifully arranged and hip track, with Rhiannon’s vocal cadence, as well as the beatboxing that almost sounds like record scratches. It has a modern feel, also serving as a pure love letter to the south. And it really works.
“An appealing grab-bag of antique country, blues, jug band hits and gospel hollers, all given an agreeably downhome production. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are still the most electrifying acoustic act around.” – The Guardian
“The Carolina Chocolate Drops are…revisiting, with a joyful vengeance, black string-band and jug-band music of the Twenties and Thirties. The dirt-floor dance electricity of the Mississippi Sheiks and Cannon’s Jug Stompers.” — Rolling Stone
The vocal work done by everybody on the album is great. The musicianship, instrumentation as well as production is all immaculate.
In conclusion, Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Leaving Eden is a very solid mixture of country, blues, folk, bluegrass and old time music. The sad part is, this was the last album they made. Rhiannon Giddens has gone on to make music on her own. Hopefully, the band hasn’t broken up and they’re still making music. Being able to purchase a new album from them right when it drops would be a dream. Especially after hearing Leaving Eden. Maybe you’ll feel the same way.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with any of these genres? The Carolina Chocolate Drops aren’t a bad place to start.