Thursday, September 12, 2013

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden

Well, maybe I didn't have anything to worry about with the direction this ensemble was heading. This is their latest release (2012) and still has a terrifically traditional sound, even with the augmentation of new instruments. The music is again a mix of traditional numbers arranged by the band, a couple originals and some newer tunes by other folks.

The opening "Riro's House" uses what they describe as a fife-and-drum beat (just snare and bass drum by Dom Flemons, who also sings), giving an interesting rhythm to this banjo (played by new member Hubby Jenkins) and fiddle (showing off Rhiannon Gidden's prowess) tune. Gidden pulls out a 5-string gourd banjo for "Kerr's Negro Jig", which adds a cool tone to this jig. In "Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man" Gidden's banjo playing is pretty exceptional, while Jenkins adds mandolin to Flemons' bones and new member Adam Matta's beatbox (which, thankfully, is not too prominent). Rhiannon excels vocally here, as well. There's a good mix of instruments and vocals on "Boodle-de-Bum-Bum" with 4-string banjo combined with cello banjo, jug, and mandolin.

Rhiannon's "Country Girl", an ode to her hometown, is another successful combination of all of the members' talents, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin, cello and beatbox (still don't understand this, but who am I to say). "Run Mountain" is very much mountain music with Dom Flemons' quills adding a nice touch. The title cut is a quiet ballad, with a bit more modern sound, while "Read 'Em John" is an acapella piece that they discovered from Alan Lomax's recording of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. "Mahalla" in an instrumental guitar/banjo piece originating from South Africa which is followed by "West End Blues", originally an instrumental by Etta Baker, but given words and melody by Giddens.

Another traditional fiddle stomper is "Po' Black Sheep", with banjo, bones and beatbox accompaniment, and "I Truly Understand that You Love Another Man" was first recorded at the same time as the original Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family sessions by Shortbuckle Roarke and his family, and is similar in feel to the Carters.  An Ethel Waters song, "No Man's Mama", is an old blues done with guitar and banjo, with a feel of early vaudeville blues. "Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig" is another fun jog tune and the set closes with Rhiannon singing "Pretty Bird" acapella, letting us appreciate her exceptional voice.

Another really fun set of updated traditional mountain music. Nice that this music is bringing success to these talented folks and getting the attention that it certainly deserves.