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by Ryan Snyder

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CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS

— Leaving Eden

Joe Thompson left this Earth only a week before the fourth album by his young protégés the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden, but he left the preservation of black string music to capable bands. Though founding member Justin Robinson departed after the group won a Grammy last year, the addition of beatboxer Adam Matta and the phenomenal multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins (what a great name) have opened up a whole new realm of arrangements for the group. The core tenets of their sound remain — this is music that would have rang out of African American dancehalls in the Jim Crow South, made primarily on fiddle, banjo and whatever crude hand percussion that can be procured. The production on this one reflects that; whereas Joe Henry’s production on Genuine Negro Jig was clean and dressed to go down smooth for a wide audience, Buddy Miller has flayed that polish away. What’s left is roots music at its most rustic, but with touches of the contemporary here and there. Whereas Robinson is turning his influences inward with his new band, creating a thoughtful assertion that they all can carry equal weight within a single song, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are expanding in multiple directions at once. Matta’s oral turntablism and Rhiannon Giddens’ rapping/singing hold up “Country Girl” with two of the four pillars of hip hop, while “Read ‘Em John” is an a capella slave spiritual with only upbeat handclaps as accompaniment. With Giddens blazing fiddle and the bones beating, the Dom Flemons-sung piece “Po’ Black Sheep” recalls the most familiar aspects of the Chocolate Drops’ sound. Then there’s “No Man’s Mama”, dripping with peculiar innuendo, that shuffles along to the tune of a strung gourd. It leaves a lot of question, to be frank, none of which have to do with the ability of the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ to sustain a strong creative direction. Leaving Eden certainly affirms them as the most provocative old time string act active today.

84/100

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