If you’ve never listened to old-time string band music, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of Americana. The new album Leaving Eden by Carolina Chocolate Drops should remedy that for you.
Old-time music is a style of North American folk that draws from traditional English, Irish, Scottish, and African influences (essentially the main people groups out of which America itself was formed). Next to Native American music, it is one of the oldest forms of traditional North American music, serving as the precursor to bluegrass, country, and even jazz. While not exclusively an African-American genre, the African-American influence is certainly a dominant force.
String bands (bands using primarily stringed instruments) made old-time music extremely popular in the early 20th century, and string bands continue to carry on the tradition today—although few have gained the national attention that Carolina Chocolate Drops has found. Their debut record Genuine Negro Jig (2010) took the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, and it will be a surprise if Leaving Eden does not do the same.
Produced by Buddy Miller (Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant), Leaving Eden showcases the true diversity of string band music, from the Celtic tinged opener “Riro’s House” to the jazzy, sassy “No Man’s Mama” to the bluesy “West End Blues”—all executed flawlessly by Carolina Chocolate Drops’ stellar musicianship. The entire record is an experience in itself, taking the listener on a musical journey through America’s roots—and yet, somehow it sounds like a record made in this century, like this is still the music of today. Or perhaps should be.
While Leaving Eden will likely appeal more to bluegrass fans than modern country fans, if you are a fan of any type of country (or blues, or jazz, for that matter), you owe it to yourself to give this record a spin, because this is the music that spawned the music you enjoy today. The CD is out now, but if you want to immerse yourself in the “Americana” of it all, pick up the vinyl version, which is due out in late March.
At any rate, in my opinion, Carolina Chocolate Drops has accomplished a great feat with this record. Not only have they captured a piece of musical history, but they have brought it to life, and brought it into the modern day. Leaving Eden places string band music back into the limelight, and it demands to be heard. I dare you to listen to this record without smiling.
Rating: Five stars (out of five)