In the last several years, a number of young performers like Nickel Creek and Rani Arbo have excelled at mixing traditional music with contemporary styles. Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem combined Hot Club-style jazz with lively vocal interpretations on Cocktail Swing in 2001. Gambling Eden takes a chance by traveling a different route. The album combines original material performed in a contemporary folk style with daring interpretations of traditional folksongs. Arbo's "Finland," and John McGann and Chris Moore's "Closer" fall in the former category, mixing pop and folk for pleasant, though not startling, results. As with Nickel Creek's less experimental tracks, it's easy to see these songs converted into videos for CMT. The real revelations on Gambling Eden are Arbo and the band's sonically charged takes of "Stewball," "Turtle Dove," and "O Death." These versions probably owe something to the Tarbox Ramblers' interpretation of traditional material on their self-titled album in 2000, but Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem have their own sound. Their take on "Stewball" might be described as reggae-folk, with a slow steady groove, heavy bass, and soulful singing, while "Turtle Dove" receives a bouncy, upbeat rendition, complete with a trumpet solo. "O Death" may seem like an obvious choice after all the attention it received from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but this version is something completely different. Indeed, it's kind of groovy, and this odd approach gives the song a fresh makeover. It's exciting to listen to young artists grow and take chances, and there are many things to like about Gambling Eden.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.