Multi-instrumentalist Carter Gravatt once famously described Carbon Leaf’s wide-ranging sound as Brazilian Polka Metal, and while the Virginian band’s sonic spectrum isn’t quite that broad, the members have indeed embraced a number of styles in crafting their own singular approach. Carbon Leaf began nearly two decades ago when the original five members were students at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College where they rehearsed in the school’s auditorium and played house parties and college functions.
After graduation, the band relocated to Richmond and honed its Bluegrass/Celtic/Rock/Folk hybrid, building a fan base by playing East Coast clubs and recording albums for the group’s label, Constant Ivy Music. By the third album, 1999’s Ether-Electrified Porch Music, Carbon Leaf had managed to sell 10,000 copies of its first three releases, a respectable number for a completely independent band.
In 2001, Echo Echo broke Carbon Leaf to a wider audience and the album proved to be the band’s turning point — the following year, the American Music Awards awarded them with a Best New Music prize for the song “The Boxer.” The resultant radio play and exposure allowed Carbon Leaf’s members to quit their day jobs after a decade of moonlighting as musicians.
In 2004, Carbon Leaf signed with respected label Vanguard and released a string of acclaimed albums (2004’s Indian Summer, 2006’s Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, 2009’s Nothing Rhymes with Woman). But, frustrated by the length of time between albums dictated by major labels, ultimately Carbon Leaf’s membership decided to leave the label and return to their independent status.
Last year exemplified why they made the right move — 2010 saw Carbon Leaf release the soundtrack to Curious George 2, How the West Was One and a holiday/winter-themed Christmas Child. The Leaf’s CD/DVD package, Live in Cinemascope, was just released and there are hints that a new studio album is in the pipeline. And that can only mean that it’s time for Carbon Leaf to hit the road.
www.archive.org) and take your pick of the 220 shows that Carbon Leaf fans have posted. Not a bad one in the bunch, we’d wager.
CARBON LEAF plays the 20th Century Theater Wednesday, Aug. 3 with guest MATTHEW MAYFIELD.