leaving eden for the frontier

28 Feb

Today the Carolina Chocolate Drops release "Leaving Eden," a spirited entrant in 21st-century Americana.

I went to Ipsento last night to knock out a review of Leaving Eden, by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Grammy-winning African American string band, and ran into my friend Dan. We talked about his recent travels to Puerto Rico, our friends’ soon-to-open pie shop, and recording some music of our own. Inspired as always by moments of incidental contact, I settled in at the big table—joined later by a petite girl reading what appeared to be chic lit—and sipped a cortado while I attempted to boil a fascinating story down to two-hundred-and-some words.

By the time I finished, I mostly liked the way it began. “To listen to the Carolina Chocolate Drops is to hear the history of the United States of America, distilled to its brightest and blackest realities.” But that’s quite the thesis for a piece whose remaining word count is a third the size of an average Huffington Post blog entry. With any luck, I’ll soon flesh out more of what I’d like to talk about in regards to the Chocolate Drops’ story—like how the name comes from the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a black country blues band that played at the 1933 World’s Fair.

The new album from Australian trio Dirty Three might've been completely alien to most listeners if not for its emotive instrumentation.

As incredible as their story is, the Chocolate Drops’ new release isn’t what I’ve been listening to for the past week. One of Alarm‘s other picks for This Week’s Best, Dirty Three’s Toward the Low Sun, has been streaming on NPR since last Sunday, and it’s been blowing my mind a little. I’m obviously a sucker for frenetic drums, but the haphazard structures of this post-rock-meets-free-jazz are equally delightful, even as they teeter.

It’s fun to trace the looping line of distorted guitar through the nearly five minutes of opening track “Furnace Skies,” but I was maybe most impressed by the way such intense playing styles could be layered to create an almost pastoral soundscape. “Rising Below,” “Ashen Snow,” “You Greet Her Ghost,” even “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone”—each uses Warren Ellis’s violin to evoke a rugged Americana frontier (or Australia’s equivalent) and give the listener just enough of a recognizable feel to help what might otherwise be cold and alien sound familiar and warm.

Read more about Dirty Three and the full review of Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Leaving Eden over at Alarm Press.

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