Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden (2012)

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The Carolina Chocolate Drops, despite their rocket-ride to Grammy fame in 2010, hadn’t yet made an album that captured their live set’s boot-scooting, blues-belting string-band revivalist verve — until now.

Producer Buddy Miller brings a candle-lit ambiance to the proceedings, allowing the band to wander ever deeper into backwoods musical influences from across the Deep South. Again stirring in so-called “black” and “white” traditions alike, the forthcoming Leaving Eden is just as ear-ticklingly impressive as 2010’s Genuine Negro Jig — but far more rustic, more present.

For instance, the solo plucks of “Kerr’s Negro Jig” are surrounded by burping frogs and sawing crickets, enveloping the track in the mysterious sounds of rural nightfall. Moments like that give Leaving Eden (due February 28 from Nonesuch) the fleet-fingered immediacy, and the heart-splashing bottom end, of a front-porch performance.

To which we say: Finally.

Opening with a roadhouse-rattling fiddle workout called “Riro’s House,” The Carolina Chocolate Drops — Dom Flemons (banjo, guitar, jug, harmonica, bones), Adam Matta (beatbox, tambourine), Rhiannon Giddens (fiddle, banjo, kazoo) and Hubby Jenkins (guitar, mandolin, bones — yes, bones; they rattle like castanets) — scurry through the album with a foot-stamping abandon, neatly echoing their hootenanny-inspired concert dates.

“Boodle-De-Bum-Bum” starts out with a gravel-road blues feel, until the Carolina Chocolate Drops start goosing it along with this jaunty hill country attitude. “Country Girl,” powered by a galloping fiddle, lives up to its name. Then there’s the skipping “Run Mountain” and “Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig/Camptown Hornpipe” which happily swerve back into the bluegrass tradition. “Read ’em John” sounds like a mashup featuring a field holler and an Emerald Isle barroom singalong. “Mahalla” boasts this cool rockabilly tinge.

Giddens also continues to grow, and to delight, as a vocalist. “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man” and “West End Blues” are similarly successful genre-busting turns, as she blends twanging old-time coos with these dark Delta growls. One of the album’s lone moments of reflection is its title track, a tragic, finely drawn tale of lost promise made devastatingly real in her honey-smoke retelling. But then Giddens charges back with a lusty fury on the divorce-themed “No Man’s Mama.” Finally, there’s her soul-baring, album-closing solo turn on “Pretty Bird,” as quiet as it is thunderously touching.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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