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Album review: Carolina Chocolate Drops' 'Leaving Eden'

February 27, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Two years ago, this North Carolina string band turned heads with a smart, sharp cover of “Hit ’Em Up Style,” the R&B hit by Blu Cantrell. The song illuminated connections between cultures and eras; it taught listeners about what’s changed (and what hasn’t) in the South and in African American vernacular music. But the Carolina Chocolate Drops learned, too, from their version of “Hit ’Em Up Style”: The most immediately arresting cut on the band’s new album is “Country Girl,” an original tune in which singer Rhiannon Giddens ponders her background over Adam Matta’s beatboxing.

For all its associations with hip-hop, beatboxing is a pretty old-timey approach to percussion, and the band spends much of this very fresh-sounding album aligning itself with traditional values. “Best kind of food is made by hand / The only place to get it is from the land,” Giddens declares in “Country Girl”; later, in the title track, she laments the death of industry in a small North Carolina town. Yet the attitudes here don’t feel received; they never arrive free of the sense that they’ve been examined thoroughly. The result is a rarity in the Chocolate Drops’ world: roots music as useful as it is beautiful.

— Mikael Wood

“Leaving Eden”
Carolina Chocolate Drops
(Nonesuch)
Three and a half stars (out of four)

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