With their 2010 Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig—which garnered a Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy last year—the Carolina Chocolate Drops proved that the old-time, fiddle and banjo-based music they’d so scrupulously researched and passionately performed could be a living, breathing, ever-evolving sound. Starting with material culled from the Piedmont region of the Carolinas, they sought to freshly interpret this work, not merely recreate it, highlighting the central role African-Americans played in shaping our nation’s popular music from its beginnings more than a century ago.
The virtuosic trio’s approach was provocative and revelatory. Their concerts, the New York Times declared, were “an end-to-end display of excellence…They dip into styles of Southern black music from the 1920s and ’30s—string-band music, jug-band music, fife and drum, early jazz—and beam their curiosity outward. They make short work of their instructive mission and spend their energy on things that require it: flatfoot dancing, jug playing, shouting.”
On Leaving Eden, the Carolina Chocolate Drops (CCD) illustrate their own adaptability to growth and change as the original lineup expands from three to five players for this recording and their new repertoire incorporates more blues, jazz, and folk balladry alongside brilliantly rendered string-band tunes. The group’s founding members Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons, both singers and multi-instrumentalists, were used to working together (CCD had evolved out of their previous group, Sankofa Strings) but they needed back-up for their second full-length Nonesuch disc. Help came in the form of three new players: beat-boxer Adam Matta, introduced to the band by their friends in NYC’s Luminescent Orchestrii (with whom they’d released a live EP on Nonesuch in 2011) and Brooklyn-based guitarist, banjo player, and singer Hubby Jenkins and New Orleans-based cellist Leyla McCalla, both of whom the band had befriended via the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which helps to support elder roots artists and encourage young talent.