Carolina Chocolate Drops ‘Leaving Eden’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

A new group to many, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are a roots group that hails from the Applachian mountains which is both unusual and fascinating for a set of African-American musicians. However, they are anything but a novelty act and this new album from them finds them in fine form on this well balanced recording. They are in fact essentially a trio with plucked banjo, mandolin and harmony vocals all featuring prominently. This is no better exemplified than on the wonderful folk-blues of ‘Boodle-de-Burbun’ while the faster paced and impassioned vocals on ‘Ruby, are you mad at your man?’ is just as entertaining with castanet-style beatbox effects. The vocals in particular of Rhiannon Giddens make for especially compelling listening and she excels on numbers such as ‘Pretty bird’. Another album highlight is ‘Country girl’ where Giddens once again is on song. That the Carolinas have learnt from the past is self-evident and their interpretation of Alan Lomax’s ‘Real ’em John’ reveals that they have done their research on the origins of the music thoroughly. The group also have an eye and ear on the bigger picture with ‘Mahalla’ being a delightful South African song with just banjo and guitar to accompany. With a lavish digipak sleeve and lovely retro photos of the band, if you are in search of something highly entertaining and just a subtle dislocation from the norm, then you may just have found your musical nirvana. A candidate for one of the year’s most original albums. Tim Stenhouse

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