Carolina Chocolate Drops: True Diversity in “Leaving Eden”

March 9, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

The minute the Carolina Chocolate Drops were formed, the American music landscape was a much better place. Why, because we need yet another old-time juggy string band? God no. A mysterious yet very specific plague could wipe out half a hundred banjo-playing anthropology majors in suspenders busking in college town coffee shops and there would still be too many. The reason the Chocolate Drops are important is substance, sincerity, understanding of music, and rabid passion for exhuming the bones that form the skeleton that all the beauty of roots music hangs from.

What’s your favorite type of roots music? Country? Blues? Folk? Bluegrass? Old Time? Primitive jazz? Did someone say Celtic? Well it’s all here in one version or another, and much of it blended together, or more precisely, returned to a period when the roots of music were blurred and you didn’t worry about genre babble, and the only litmus tests were if the music stirred your soul, or got your booty shaking.

Blinding diversity and taste compliment intelligent ears for the 15 solid tracks of Leaving Eden. Normally I’m for less songs on albums these days. Trim the fat. But the Chocolate Drops make it deep into puberty and still leave you wanting more. There is something here for everyone. The energy of “Riro’s House” and “I Truly Understand…” set to Celtic rhythms, the spellbinding simplicity of “Kerr’s Negro Jig” that implements the Ralph Peer approach to recording, and the almost ska-like sweetness of “Mahalla.” So much here, yet the presentation is still so cohesive and the songs so intuitively matched.

The rise of mainstream country rap has charged me with the purpose of finding positive examples of the blending of traditionally white and black music. Country rap fans love to throw it in your face that if you don’t like mainstream country rap, you’re against diversity, or you’re unwilling to evolve, while my point has always been that the merging of the two most easily-identifiable elements of the two mega-genres is actually the death of diversity, and a devolution to a mono-genre.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops do not rap in any of their songs, however there are a couple where they use beat boxing to make a bed for the music. Even before consulting the liner notes, I recognized the beat boxing on a few of the songs as the work of the amazing Adam Matta, one of the world’s premier beat boxers, and a master at the art of collaboration, and specifically in collaboration with roots music. Matta has worked previously with The Wiyos and many other roots artists.

Even though you think of beat boxing as a more modern art form, believe it or not does have some history in the roots, and it fits firmly within the realm of the Chocolate Drop’s throwback concept, especially since it is not a featured element in their music, but just another tool in their bag, no different than banjo and the bones.

“Country Girl,”one of the songs on the album where beat boxing is featured, might be controversial if you were looking for the Chocolate Drop’s answer to the country checklist song. But I don’t believe this is on purpose, it’s more an unintended consequence of an excellent song being unfairly typecast by a current hyper trend.

One of the best parts of Leaving Eden is how engaged you stay with the music because of the rabid variety of style and instrumentation they throw at you. They are tireless students, or more like archeologists of primitive music forms, constantly learning and adapting styles to their sonic tapestry. And despite the primitive nature of their music, their approach to recording is very progressive and becomes yet another element for them to play with, using layering and depth in the recording process with an adeptness few others have mastered so astutely.

The best part about the Carolina Chocolate Drops is they symbolize the greatness, the importance, and the hope of true diversity in music. I’ll say what many others are scared to say: It is cool to have people of color playing country music, and not just playing country, but “getting it,” and not using race as either a bit or a crutch. This isn’t Charlie Pride in his Nashville Sound crooner days, this is real, dirty, niche stuff that has found a much wider audience that I’d like to think has little to do with race, and more with the sheer quality of the music.

And country music needs this type of premier, top-notch jug band, very similar to how Old Crow Medicine Show was back in the day, before they decided to go in a more progressive, Americana direction.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Leaving Eden are something for country music to be infinitely proud of.

Two guns up!

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Preview & Purchase tracks from Leaving Eden

Adam Matta:

19 Comments to “Carolina Chocolate Drops: True Diversity in “Leaving Eden””

  • stellar music. loved it. you got it right, there’s a bunch of musical roots in there for sure, blues, country, irish/celtic, jazz, name it. i’ll take this over any country rap LP any damn time. the diversity the brain police toss about these days is something i want no part of. i’ll take a heaping helping of this LP anytime. thanks, trig.


  • Seen em on the Marty Stuart show, one of the last true Country artists. Who in turn showcases true American Music. And thanks for your ongoin effort and due dilligence in this arena Triggerman.


  • I really like these guys and girl. I think that most musicians should use Carolina Chocolate Drops as a model. The fact that they research and pay respect to the history of several genres speaks volumes.

    Great review Triggerman. Goin to get this tomorrow.


  • Great fucking band! Awesome live show too! I caught them last year at OK Mozart and they killed!!! The nicest sort of folks to boot.


  • Two words: Fucking awesome.


  • Great band and great album, indeed.

    Took the family to see them at the Library of Congress (our tax dollars at work) a few weeks ago. My six year old daughter is a very enthusiastic fan and calls them her favorite group. I would often play their Genuine Negro Jig album in the car and she really took to them. At one point in the show, band member Rhiannon Giddens searched the crowd for any kids and gave out about a half dozen kazoos. Nice touch. Oh yeah, and they were fantastic.


  • Man… that 10 second clip of the title track just gave me goosebumps!


  • I got this cd yesterday, and right now I say it will very likely be in my top 5 for 2012. If not, this will be a glorious year for real American music. And I kick myself for not going to see them when they played in my hometown, some time ago.
    This is real music, played with real passion, in the best tradition. The music that O Brother Where Art Thou was all about. I love it. The only thing I missed in the review was a mention of Buddy Miller as the producer, and as provider of his livingroom as studio. Not saying that the Carolina Chocolate Drops wouldn’t be great without him, but Buddy Miller is definitely doing his part to keep the real American music alive.


  • A few thoughts

    1) How are they not using “race” as a crutch when they use the word “Chocolate” in their name.

    2) This is not their fault, but the fact that you seem to be complaining about the NPRization of roots music, I hope you realize that this is a NPR producers wet dream.

    3) I can honestly say, I have never gone to a country music concert and said “Oh man, I wish there were a bunch of black people here.” Or, “man, I wish there were more black country singers.”

    4) All that said their music is pretty good.


    • These are some excellent points, and I’m glad you made them.

      1) Without a doubt, this band is not trying to hide their race. However, when I was talking about a “crutch” I was really referring to the fact that the music is so strong, you do not have to give them extra points simply for being black to enjoy the music or see its merit. Their name is an equivalent name to what a traveling troupe of musicians from the period their music comes from would have been named, so even though it has a race component, it fits their concept.

      2) You are totally right about this being the NPR crowds wet dream, and the only reason I did not make that point in the main review was because it was getting too long, and I couldn’t find anywhere to fit it in the flow. I tried though. However unlike a lot of the music the NPR crowd creams over, I think there is some really great substance here. Usually the NPR crowd wants to hear roots, but they want it to be soft and pallid, not too interruptive for the cocktail parties (I know I’m generalizing here), but this music is very raw, very uncultured in many ways, so it doesn’t fit that regular “NPR” mold.

      3) I can say I’ve never gone to a country concert and said “Or, “man, I wish there were more black country singers” either. But I can say I do think it is cool now. I can agree we shouldn’t obsess too much over their race, because I believe that gives them an unfair advantage. When Marty Stuart introduced them at The Grand Ole Opry, he apologized to them. I kind of think that was a little too much. Let them do their thing, and ignore their race I say, they’re good enough where race is really irrelevant.


    • In the last few years I’ve seen the race “crutch” used a lot. There are many that say “know your history” but only seem to recite a laundry list of atrocities perpetrated against their ancestors. Too often race is used for leverage in a play against white guilt. What’s often lacking is credit for Victory against this oppression.

      The importance of the “chocolate” in this recipe is that the group is bringing to the forefront a living history. They exude pride and class. While their old-timey bit surely helps to grab attention, their acceptance in the mainstream is not the result of race politics. Their success is a result of strength and resolve.

      On another note, I was at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. The music was heavily blues-oriented and it did strike me that there were almost no black people in the audience. I mean, there were more blacks on stage at any given moment than there were in attendance. It’s not country but I actually did think something like; “Oh man, I wish there were a bunch of black people here.”


      • “It’s not country but I actually did think something like; “Oh man, I wish there were a bunch of black people here.”

        I’ve sort of felt that way at blues festivals in the NYC and DC areas. Also concerts by such artists as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal and Robert Cray. You might see a smattering of black people at some of these shows, but the audience is almost totally white.


    • The inspiration for the band’s name comes from a old black string band called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops. Here’s a song I found on youtube:


  • these cat’s are dropping a Record Store Day 7″ (coke bottle green) in april covering Run DMC’s “You Be Illin”. the press release says it was recorded during the Leaving Edan sessions.


  • Love this album.. Between this and Chuck Mead’s new album I’m almost at a sensory overload.. And to think that Lucero’s album drops the 13th and JTE’s by month end and all the while waiting for a baby to arrive.. Gonna be an amazing month.. :)


    • I’m super stoked for Lucero and JTE. And congrats on the baby.


  • Amazon has this at $5.99 this week.


  • Good review. Really interesting and well done album.


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