Words by Nige Tassell
New ancient strings from New Orleans
Although this is Leyla McCalla’s debut record, anyone who’s seen the Carolina Chocolate Drops live will have been warmed by this young woman’s artistry. A multi-instrumentalist who tours with the African-American string band, this native New Yorker favours the cello, whether playing Bach on the streets of her adopted home of New Orleans or picking her instrument the same way she does her banjo.
Subtitled A Tribute to Langston Hughes, the album features songs with melodies set to the celebrated poet’s words; others are either self-penned creations with an old-time feel or delightful reprises of old Haitian folk songs. This is a strain of New Orleans music that’s well-removed from the horn-heavy, second-line parade tradition. Sometimes it’s the sound of the city’s eerie cemeteries that haunt each of the city’s neighbourhoods – stripped-back, brittle and ghostly. Other times the mood shifts between high-summer dog-day afternoons and small-hours smokiness. The Haitian Creole songs are particularly charming, intimate almost to the point of eroticism. And this exploration of the city’s under-explored Caribbean currents is most welcome; the Big Easy is, after all, as close – both geographically and culturally – to Port-au-Prince as it is to New York City. You’ll be very glad she made the move.
Track to try: ‘Heart of Gold’