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Carolina Chocolate Drops - 'Leaving Eden'

Released on Signature Sounds, Feb. 28, 2012

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden

© Signature Sounds
The Carolina Chocolate Drops have been slowly but steadily building one of the most impressive careers melding traditional and contemporary folk music into a sound all their own. Where previous albums saw them exploring decidedly traditional music in a mostly traditional way, Leaving Eden, even in title alone, implies a certain departure. The underlying story here is a loss of innocence, a veering from righteousness, a deliberate road away from whence you came. All of these themes are fiercely present on this disc, produced by Americana darling Buddy Miller.

Doing Funny Things With Tradition

There are plenty of bands playing the folk music circuit these days who are focusing hard either on traditional or contemporary folk music styles. But, few artists straddle the line between those two things quite like the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The Grammy-winning trio has gone through some changes over the past couple years, though, and Leaving Eden is no doubt a testament to those changes.

Before I get too deep into analysis of the songs themselves, a word must be said for producer Buddy Miller, who has a tendency to bring out the most fundamental energy in the artists with whom he works. Known best, perhaps, for his work with his wife Julie and as a producer with folks like Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and others (not to mention his musicianship behind Robert Plant in the Band of Joy), Buddy Miller is an Americana music national treasure. His gift is in getting straight to the core of the music. Rather than drape it with colorful additives, everything Miller touches seems to possess exactly the right amount of zest. He has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of music and musical styles, and he seems to know exactly what it takes to embody each. As a result, the songs do precisely as they should, without bothering with ambition or decoration.

Indeed, Miller's approach to producing perfectly suits the Chocolate Drops' style and it's a wonder the troupe hasn't teamed up with him sooner.

Standout Tracks

Though there's a definite overarching theme on Leaving Eden, each of its 15 tracks carries a story of its own. Some of them, like "I Truly Understand That You Love Another Man" (purchase/download), completely embody the aesthetic of the old timey Appalachian stringband tradition. Others, like "No Man's Mama" (purchase/download) are a little more stylistic. In that case, it's an almost theatrical Vaudeville number carried nearly exclusively on singer Rhiannon Giddens' remarkably versatile vocals.

"Run Mountain" (purchase/download) returns to that stringband tradition with the added feature of a sort of Irish jig energy featuring a banjo and flute back-and-forth.

Then there are voices-and-bodies a cappella tunes like "Read 'Em John" (purchase/download). Here, the old spiritual sounds like it might if the trio were walking an old country backroad and just burst into song. "Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?" (purchase/download) is traditionally sung by a man (namely folks like Buck Owens and Bobby Osborne), clearly, but Giddens revives it here, lumping new meaning on the somewhat dark imagery herein. Behind her, the beatbox and jug (sometimes sounding like record scratching) together with very traditional mandolin and spoons, the tune shapes into one of the most remarkable pairings of the old and new. If Carolina Chocolate Drops are to be judged stylistically by a single track, this one would be the most quintessential.

It can be difficult to capture the energy of a band's live show on a recording, but with Leaving Eden, the Chocolate Drops jampack all that and more into 15 tracks. To that end, this disc is definitely poised to be one of the best folk efforts of 2012.

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