Carolina Chocolate Drops
**** out of *****
Grammy winners don't mean all that much these days but when a group of young black string players take home the Best Traditional Folk Artists award it makes you take notice. Following up their award winning album Genuine Negro Jig, finds the Carolina Chocolate Drops in an odd space as founding member Justin Robinson has left the band, tiring from touring life. Founding members Rhiannon Giddens and Don Flemons have filled his spot in an unusual way bringing in 3 players: cellist Leyla McCall, beat-boxer Adam Matta and multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins.
While they have increased their numbers they certainly haven't overloaded their sound and by turning to bluegrass/folk producer extraordinaire Buddy Miller things are as lean and organic as ever on Leaving Eden. Mixing in Traditional songs with originals that can stand tall next to the old tunes provides for an impressive collection, and we are not just talking American traditional here as one of the highlights is the beautiful playing on the groups cover of Hannes Coetzee's "Mahalla" written in South Africa.
When the group does dip into the south or "Old Timey" music there are lots to showcase, the call and clapping of "Read "Em John" as well as the fiery picking displayed on "Po Black Sheep" and the opening "Riro's House" are just the start of things. The production shines on "Kerr's Negro Jig" as there are only 2 things being played, a 5 string gourd banjo and the crickets outside; the nature infused track might smack of gimmickry somewhere else but not here. The jazz singing displayed by Giddens on Lew Pollack and Jack Yellen's "No Man's Mama" is shiver inducing as she proclaims her independence while the spiritual vocal tone undertaken on the title track and disk closing "Pretty Bird" is just as exciting.
The strong originals are an added delight showing true talent from these players as they dip into the blues with "West End Blues" play a mean ramble with disk highlight "Boodle-De-Bum-Bum" and even try their hand at breaking into modern day, mainstream CMT with their "Country Girl". It will be interesting to see if this song takes off like it should in those realms and propel the band to even bigger heights, but as it stands the group is on firm ground singing and playing in a tradition that still can produce awe and revery.
Fans of the genre have a new gem on their hands and hopefully the group will inspire new listeners everywhere to dig back into tradition.
You can grab the album here from Nonesuch Records and follow the band here. Make sure to catch them live and in the mean time here are some musical samples for you:
"Boodle-De-Bum-Bum" live on NPR
"Run Mountain" Live