The Carolina Chocolate Drops have continued to push their game further and further with each new release, their latest of which ‘Leaving Eden‘ sees a new extended line-up allowing some first time offerings and a more expansive sound. Those original ingredients that made them so popular are still present and amongst some well-chosen covers and traditional songs are also some new original compositions. As has become their trademark, they still maintain a modern rich authentic sound which ventures into modern influences yet remains steeped in the enchanting mystery of those early recordings which they bring alive.
The new band line-up includes Brooklyn-based guitarist, banjo player and singer Hubby Jenkins (now a full-time member) and New Orleans-based cellist Leyla McCalla who makes her presence felt more than ever on the title track which is unlike anything the band have played before. Whilst the production skills of Buddy Miller (Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Patty Griffin) shine through it is still the band’s core authenticity and exposure of African-American roots music that makes my heart beat faster. It was through them that I was first introduced to a whole raft of artists such as John Snipes, Dink Roberts and Joe and Tommy Thompson. Discovering all this new music was like striking gold, those early artists made it very clear where the banjo had its roots, not with bluegrass but with men like Clarence Tross of West Virginia who began playing the banjo in 1895 and learned most of his tunes from his father! In recent years there have been great efforts to ‘reclaim the banjo’ and to offer greater exposure of African-American roots music and the Carolina Chocolate Drops are certainly one of the leading lights.
The highlight of the album has got to be their rendition of ‘Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?‘ a track I first heard played by Martin Young and Corbett Grigsby on Smithsonian’s ‘Mountain Music of Kentucky (1960)‘. This version gets loaded up with an extra rocket booster with some mean banjo playing, some deft beatboxing from Adam Matta, Dom Flemmons on bones and not forgetting Rhiannon Giddens on vocals.
Fife and drum make an appearance, a sound unlike any other (I Truly Understand That You Love Another Man). It’s a sound many people first came across on Martin Scorcese’s blues documentary and its roots can be traced to the North Mississippi region although it sounds a lot more ancient and probably is (like the banjo). The first recording of fife and drum was made by Alan Lomax in 1942 and featured multi-instrumentalist Sid Hemphill, it was on his granddaughter’s album Jessie Mae Hemphill‘s Dare You To Do It Again: Songs For Pookie where I first heard it (track below).
Riro’s House (featuring drum only but in similar style)
The band also venture into some jazzy numbers (No Man’s Mamma) as well as some old time blues (Boodle De Bum Bum) that you can almost imagine a 78rpm crackle behind…
Leaving Eden takes the Carolina Chocolate Drops to the next level and they still sound like they are having the best time of their life! Long may it last!
Boodle De Bum Bum
Leaving Eden is released on Nonesuch