Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
A few songs into the show, Ranky Tanky trumpet player Charlton Singleton said of 2019, "It was a fantastic year." He pointed out that the Charleston, S.C.-based band made its first national TV appearance and released a new album, "Good Time," in July, which hit the top of the Billboard jazz chart. To top it off, Ranky Tanky garnered a Grammy nomination for the album for Best Regional Roots Music Album.
Heady times for a band formed about three years ago by College of Charleston students, who met in the late '90s and never expected to go very far.
But based on the group's performance on this night, it showed that talent counts for something. Make it a lot for Ranky Tanky.
First off, this is a unique group. They are steeped in Gullah music, a style of music that emanated from West African slaves, who were forced to come to the U.S. "Kum-Bah-Yah" and "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" both have their roots in Gullah culture.
Ranky Tanky (the name comes from the Gullah language, roughly meaning "get funky") incorporated jazz, the blues, rhythm & blues and gospel music in its repertoire during the 95-minute show of originals and Gullah covers. There's a bit of a New Orleans jazz style feel to the sound as well. Emphasizing the Louisiana connection, washboard also was also part of the sound on a few songs.
Quiana Parler, who took care of most of the lead vocals, was simply a powerhouse. She had a lot of color in her expressive, emotive vocals (the soul/jazz combo of "Stand By Me" led by Parler's singing) that carried song after song. Guitarist Clay Ross and Singleton also took lead vocals, and while not in Parler's league, they helped underscore the diversity of the group.
At times, you'd think this was most clearly a jazz group with upright bassist Kevin Hamilton going on extended meanderings with Ross adding focused playing. Or when Singleton went on for a while on trumpet during a subdued reading of the band's "Turtle Dove." And then Ranky Tanky would head in a different direction.
As Ross said around the group's rendition of the title track of their latest, "We're going to have as good time."
That about summed up the night of music.