Doing Funny Things With Tradition
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.
"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.