Review: Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden

There are few bands creating music today who bring the old school like the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This is traditional African American folk music with a modern sensibility that has seen the band pick up Grammy’s and heartfelt fanfare from, seemingly, all corners of the western world.

Genuine Negro Jig – the band’s 2010 album that stole the hearts and minds of all who embraced it – remains a pivotal work that showed a band at the peak of their powers. There was a firm tongue in cheek throughout Genuine Negro Jig – as the cover of Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style attests to – blended seamlessly with genuine seriousness – see the almost acapella version of Why Don’t You Do Right. With the Drops’ followup record Leaving Eden, however, the balance between the two seems to have become skewed to the point where it feels detrimental.

This is not to say that the record is without its highlights as that would be to profess a falsehood. The sterling fiddle work on the likes of Country Girl – which prominently features the beatboxing skills of new member Adam Matta – and Riro’s House show the band in their prime. However these moments are simply not as regularly consistent as on the album’s predecessor.

It is perhaps unfair to compare this record with Genuine Negro Jig as the Drops have undergone major changes in personnel. Gone is Justin Robinson – who left due to issues with the band’s extensive touring schedule – and in his place come the multi instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and, the aforementioned, Matta. It is testament to the capabilities of Robinson that the band saw fit to replace him with two prominent talents however you can’t help but feel that their presence has somewhat tainted the band’s output.

The eerie cello that accompanies the title track, Leaving Eden, is a stark reminder to the evolution that has occurred within the band over the past couple of years – a track which shows Rhiannon Giddens at her inspired best. However you would have expected that with the eccentric invention of Buddy Miller, the record’s producer, at the helm there could have been so many more high points on show. What we’re left with is an album that while far from being bad is just not to the standards that we have come to expect.

The thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is that this is a band who are simply a one of a kind when it comes to making roots music sound entirely contemporary while keeping a foot firmly in the door of the past. It is an enviable trait to behold, although you can’t help but feel that with this record there’s a sense of remaining within a certain comfort zone, the shackles of which are apparent only after you fully comprehend the abilities of those who consider themselves members of the Chocolate Drops.

Domm Norris