Tag Archives: Soul

Tank and the Bangas @ Haw River Ballroom 5/12/18

I went in blind.  Meaning, the only exposure I had to the New Orleans-based band, Tank and the Bangas, prior to their SOLD OUT show at Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, was a 20-minute snapshot through the lens of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series.  I was the fish, and I was hooked.

When I found out that a few days after this discovery, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her Bangas would descend on that utopia along the banks of the Haw River, I made the conscious decision to stay above ground, avoiding the YouTube rabbit holes.  I wanted my virgin live experience to be pure.  I wanted every moment to feel new, which is in itself a lofty desire, but one I was willing to put out into the universe. I was not disappointed.

Tank – They must call her Tank because of the presence she brings when she enters the room–formidable and strong on the outside with intricate, delicate machinery on the inside.  A mix of fury and finesse, Tank shared her tornado of expressions without pause.  Within seconds on stage, the joy in her face and the swing in her hips told the crowd that it was time to have fun, and that while the carnival of emotions might take us from elation to exhaustion, all of it should be embraced. 

 

With close to three decades of life experience under her belt, Tank has stories to tell.  That night, below the glow of the word THRILLS, Tank seamlessly wove these stories together, calling upon childhood fearlessness to emerge again despite the confines of adult responsibilities.  Her authenticity and old-soul wisdom empowered and energized the crowd effortlessly.

The juxtaposition of her strength and fragility was simultaneously conflicting and comforting.  This push-pull generational struggle was embodied by the multiple personalities tucked in the pockets of her limitless vocal range.  From her wide-eyed, bright-pitched, girlish pops and squeals to her salt-of-the-earth, gritty, seasoned tones, Tank covered the spectrum of emotions easily in the first five minutes she was on stage. 

In life, people like to categorize things–place them in tidy, little boxes.  We are all guilty to some degree of this practice.  As I watched and listened, it became harder and harder to put Tank in a box.  She exudes originality, so much so that making direct comparisons to other female artists is futile.  Capturing her style in one or two words is like playing an endless game of whack-a-mole.  Just when you think you can nail her down, she’s gone.

The Bangas – Tank was joined on stage by Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph (background vocals), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drums), Albert Allenback (flute, alto saxophone), Merell Burkett (keys), Danny Abel (guitar) and Jonathan Johnson (bass).  Collectively known as The Bangas, this crew of artists lifted Tank to another level.  The standout element of improvisation across all instruments (voices included) made the whole show feel less like a cookie-cutter production and much more like a jam-band, gospel, funkdified tent revival–paddle fans, praising hands, crowd participation and all!

Worth noting is Ms. Joseph’s contribution to the whole live experience.  While Jelly is labeled a background singer, and has been called Tank’s “fly girl,” my impression after seeing her live is that those labels don’t quite hit the mark.  Sure, she helps keep the crowd hype, but she also shines in her own light–out from Tank’s shadow.  The tightness of her vocals with Tank’s felt genetic, like sisters who spent their lives singing together.  The love and respect between these two was palpable.  To be obvious, she’s the jelly to Tank’s peanut butter–you don’t have one without the other.

The Show – While I expected similar feelings to those I felt watching that Tiny Desk Concert, what I could have never predicted was the myriad of places the band would take me throughout the set.  As a kid growing up with the rise of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s, I was transported back to my days of parachute pants and one-strap overalls.  It felt as if I was witnessing a modern-day resurrection of Native Tongues, but with a new twist–spoken word and smooth, soulful jazz peppered with hip-hop, rock, punk, and Broadway theatrics.  Welcome to Bangaville.

Spoken word erupted in the 1950s in the US, and has evolved over decades of war, oppression and  social injustice, as a means to bring words to life—give them depth and dimension that is often denied in printed poetry.  This art, achieved through an intense and syncopated delivery that demands attention, is the centerpiece of Tank’s brilliance.  And while she certainly can and has commanded a crowd as a solo artist, the richness offered by The Bangas, expands the ripple effect far beyond the confines of a one-woman show.

At one point in the show, Tank asked, “Did you think I went through all that I went through to stay the same?”  Profound statements like this were sprinkled throughout the set, making it almost impossible not to stop and reflect.  In between the fun, silly moments, a message of hope and the importance of self-acceptance embraced the audience without warning or apology.

The set itself was solid, including fan-favorites Walmart, Boxes and Squares, Oh Heart, and their newest hit Smoke Netflix Chill.  The band took us all back in time with a rambunctious cover of Nirvana’s 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and a slowed-down soulful rendition of Outkast’s 2003 jam Roses

Following the set, and a brief moment off-stage, Tank and the Bangas reemerged to encore with Rollercoaster–a perfect way to end what was in itself an evening of ups, downs, twists, turns, and as my three-year old son would describe it, “tummy tickles.”  As the house lights came up, I looked back on the sold out crowd– a sea of faces lit up like the 4th of July, ready to get back in line and take another ride.

 

To learn more about Tank and the Bangas visit: http://www.tankandthebangas.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Album Review – Lake Street Dive’s “Bad Self Portraits”

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Photographs are the gateway to the past. These 3×5 glossy prints serve as tangible memories capable of unleashing an emotional flood the instant the image and retina meet. While photographs convey moments locked in time and place, they can also inform and inspire the present and future — much like music.

On their breakout LP, “Bad Self Portraits,” Brooklyn-based jazz-pop-soul quartet, Lake Street Dive, taps into the curious power of the photograph, with a throwback twist. The band itself has a bit of a vintage vibe, with lead singer Rachel Price fit to be a 50s pin-up girl, upright bassist Bridget Kearney looking straight out of an episode of Mad Men, and drummer Mike Calabrese and multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson sporting just enough flashback hipster gear to round-out the look.

While it is easy to describe the band’s onstage appearance, it is much harder to pigeon-hole Lake Street Dive into a specific genre of music. On the album, Price’s smooth vocals offer a buttery mix of Motown soul and southern rhythm and blues, while the band adds a punch of doo-wop, swing and jazz. Collectively, the melding of musical styles finds a sweet intersection across all 11 tracks.

The album opener and title track is a bluesy take on the modern-day selfie phenomenon. With Laurel Canyon undertones and vocals that stand up to blues-rock icons Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, this track jumpstarts the album with soul and presence. The doo-wop swinger “Stop Your Crying” speaks to the cyclical nature of letting the wrong kind of love come back around. With lyrics like, “I am a photograph, a moment stuck in time,” this track is a realistic glimpse into how love can cloud better judgment.

The album slows down on “Better Than,” a smoky ballad with a sadness reminiscent of Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” As Price’s vocals dip low, Olson adds muted trumpet tones that further drive the melancholy home. After the quick piano pick-up jam, “Rabid Animal,” Lake Street Dive puts their best feet forward with “You Go Down Smooth,” the song that blew minds and propelled the band to fame at T Bone Burnett’s “Another Day, Another Time — Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’” concert in NYC last fall. “You Go Down Smooth” is not only lyrically brilliant, with cocktail metaphors galore, but it also highlights all of the band’s best features — Prince’s sultry jazz-singer range with the bands crisp harmonies and instrumentation.

“Use Me Up” is an ironic flip on Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” telling the tale of a parasitic love that leaves little left over. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a dreamy combination of retro rock cosmic flair and “Little Shop of Horrors” corner-shop doo-wop. It is fun and clearly one of the album’s best, despite feeling a bit overproduced.

“Just Ask” is five minutes of pure R&B bliss, with distant gritty guitar and ghostly backing vocals layered behind Price’s velvet vocal elegance, while “Seventeen” capitalizes on the band’s collective talents and falls in line with the more modern blues style of John Mayer.

By this point in the album, listeners may start feeling like the album’s protagonist is a bit of a pushover. Just in time to dispel this assumption, “What About Me” gives the album the sexy confidence it needs, and gives the love story a real backbone. However, just as quickly as the confidence appears, it withers as the album closes with “Rental Love,” a murky lounge reflection of a one-sided love affair that features Price’s powerful pipes one last time.

Overall, “Bad Self Portraits” covers the spectrum of emotion that accompanies the journey of love. Each track is a snapshot into past relationships, both good and bad. Throughout the album, Price displays a vocal prowess that makes Amy Winehouse’s absence seem a bit more bearable. Lake Street Dive offers a unique perspective on music’s past while catching the attention of listeners today. In the blink of a flash, “Bad Self Portraits” chronicles the band’s contribution to music and will hold its color and composition in the albums of music for decades to come.

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Album Review – Rebekah Todd’s “Roots Bury Deep”

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Deep beneath the muddied surface of the Tar River and the sifted soil of tobacco fields lays the history of our state. Layered stories from past generations have formed the foundation upon which all other stories are told.

This month, local songstress Rebekah Todd adds her own stories to the thick NC bedrock with her first LP, “Roots Bury Deep.” Funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, this 9-track album proves to be a soulful folk gem with shades of jazz and funk that paints across the canvas of genres, all while maintaining a cohesiveness that keeps the listener engaged.

With this album, Todd enlisted some of the best that Greenville has to offer. Local musicians Demetrice Everett (drums), Chris Knuckles (saxophone), Evan Roberson (trombone), William Seymour (bass), and Brandon Shamar (keys) lend their talents and create a more textured auditory landscape that enhances Todd’s traditional folk sound. The final product takes listeners on a journey from the deep, dark corners of loss and despair to the wide-open, bright spaces of love and hope.

The album opens with “Devil’s Gonna Buy,” a ghostly, Bourbon Street bender flushed out with whiney trombone and eerie background vocals fit for the dark, gritty alleyways of New Orleans. This track jumps right into “Closer To Dead,” which shines with gospel undertones as the organ and saxophone emerge in line with the supernatural opener.

The catchy radio hit “On The Run” features a punchy cadence and baseline reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” While the title may imply runaway-bride-syndrome, this track is all about empowerment and drive — an important message for anyone who may need a nudge in life. The stripped-down acoustic “Thinking About You” takes a softer, day-dreamy glimpse into Todd’s past, where she opens up about the gripping realization that life is quite incompatible without love.

On “Tornado,” Todd channels her heartaches into powerhouse vocals and tempts the heavens, while reminding listeners that the only way to trump adversity is to face it head-on. “Your Smiling Face” is a toe-tap-clapper with a steam engine drum line fitted with enough spunk to become a crowd favorite.

Todd’s songwriting truly gleams on “Old Days,” a track that traces Todd back through time where she bears the pain of loss, but finds comfort in reliving memories and relishing in the little signs from above. The title track “Roots Bury Deep” follows, and proves once again this songstress’ lyrical prowess as she belts “Let me take you back to the rhythm/Back to the time when you felt only love in my arms/Let me take you back to the country where your roots bury deep/And the soil is rich for all.”

The album closes with “Wishing Well,” an eight-minute magical woodland wonder that captures Todd at a vulnerable crossroad, gazing into her reflection and foreshadowing her path. The horns on this track fade in gently to compliment Todd’s vocal tones and ride the song out as an instrumental. Roberson and Knuckles trade off leads, as if improvising a conversation between Todd’s yesterdays and tomorrows. This track is a beautiful tribute to the fragile nature of life and all of the events and decisions that guide its course.

Throughout “Roots Bury Deep,” Todd’s superb songwriting ties itself closely to the earth — the soil, the roots, the elements. In a world bogged down by technology and the next new trend, Todd keeps things clean, simple and organic, focusing on the most primal of emotions.

Todd’s poignant and powerful vocals reign supreme on each track, with the force to puncture even the toughest of exteriors. However, it is clear to any listener that the backing band elevates Todd’s signature sound to an entirely new level. The horns and organ pull out a speakeasy soul from Todd’s voice that was not yet fully developed on her 2011 EP “Forget Me Not.”

Overall, “Roots Bury Deep” translates as a potent collection of Todd’s most intimate stories. The album reveals that Todd has matured not only as a songwriter, but also as a performer as she displays a renewed confidence in her music. As with any artist, it is important to evolve and grow, and with this album Todd shows that she is capable and comfortable in her own skin, all while staying grounded by her roots.

“Roots Bury Deep” will be released officially February 18, 2014, and will be available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Amazon and more. For more information about her Greenville and Raleigh album release parties, be sure to keep up with Todd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or at www.rebekahtodd.com.

Enjoy the title track here!

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Kickstarter to Watch – Rebekah Todd

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No matter how you feel about it, listener-supported music is here to stay.  Gone are the days of scraping pennies together to record and master an album in your mom’s basement.  Thanks to social media and websites like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic, independent musicians can call on their fans from across the globe to lend a hand in the recording process–at least the financial side of things.

For many fans, this new forum provides an affordable conduit to “back” a musician or band that they really love.  In return for their donations, fans  not only get to feel more connected to the music, but also typically receive some sweet personalized merchandise or experience from the musicians/bands.  From signed lyric sheets to house concerts, musicians have a chance to get really creative with the lists of “prizes” for their backers.  But here’s the kicker (no pun intended): If the project’s goal is not 100% met, backers get back their money and the musician gets nothing.  It’s all or nothing, folks!

As a fan who backs projects from time to time, there is something rewarding in making a contribution and following the progress of a campaign.  Checking-in to see how much money has been raised and what prizes have been snatched up, along with receiving updates from the musicians themselves, can really be fun.  Recently, I pledged $50 to Scott Miller and The Commonwealth’s new album, and was happy to learn that they have surpassed their goal, and I will be one of the first (among the other 334 pledgers) to hear the album once it is completed.

Currently, I am following Rebekah Todd’s Kickstarter campaign.  Rebekah is gifted singer/songwriter/guitarist out of eastern NC who is gearing up to record her first LP at the end of July.   I interviewed Rebekah last year, and learned all about her musical influences, which range from Susan Tedeschi to Lauryn Hill.  Her music is dripping with a muggy southern soul that speaks to the trials and tribulations of life, death, love, heartbreak, and everything in between.  There is an historic air in her songwriting that pays tribute to those who walked before her, as if perhaps she was born in the wrong century or recalling experiences from a past life.  From her 2011 EP, “Forget Me Not“, Rebekah’s songwriting and performing has evolved, and she’s found a keen balance between the ghosts that haunt her and guardian angels that protect her.  Her music–her voice–reaches into your heart and makes you feel not only her own joy and pain, but your own, as well.

For me, that is what music is about, and why I believe that Rebekah’s Kickstarter is one to watch.  Take a listen to her story, consider backing her project, and share with your friends.

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Interview: Rebekah Todd

A girl and her guitar

Thus far, the height of my musical “career” was winning first place at my elementary school talent show for singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  I was five.  I was a complete ham, and wanted to be a star.  My older brother told me the only reason I won was because I was cute–fair enough.  Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I’ve realized that my feverish desire for stardom is much better served in the confines of my car and home, rather than on the main stage.  Instead, the main stage should be reserved for those people who possess that innate gift of musical creativity and mastery that inspires and makes us feel alive.  It was a pleasant surprise when I recently stumbled upon one of those people right here in eastern NC.

I was introduced to Rebekah Todd when she opened up for Paleface at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC a few months ago–a lone young lady on stage with just her acoustic Alvarez guitar and a mic.  She did a quick mic check, and politely introduced herself to the audience.  I watched and waited, thinking how brave she was to get up there and sing by herself.  I was envious and impressed before even hearing her voice.  And then she sang.  A boisterous yet angelic, soulful, bluesy voice filled the room, and I was floored.  Who had been hiding this homegrown gem, and why hadn’t I heard of her before?  She quickly captivated the crowd with original songs like  Jordan, Citizen, Gallows, Little by Little, and Walked Right Through Me.  That evening, as her powerful voice echoed off of Tipsy’s glossy, cherry red walls,  I was happy to tag along on her musical journey.

A few weeks after the show I sat down with Todd to talk about her music and big plans for the future.

Todd grew up in the small town of Benson, NC and was surrounded by music as early as she could remember.  At eight years old, she started formal piano lessons, but soon figured out that the structure of reading music didn’t quite fit her style of learning.

“I play by ear 100%, so I don’t read music unless you have a sheet with chords.  If it’s the notes on the staff I can’t do it at all.  When I was eight, I figured that out.  I remember my teacher was teaching me the Titanic theme song.  I was reading it on the paper and I got a note wrong, so I stopped looking at the paper and listened and figured it out.  She yelled at me and told me I had to read the paper, and she was really mean so I dropped it and never went back,” she recalled.

Soon thereafter, Todd’s father suggested she learn how to play the guitar.  She fondly remembered those early memories of her dad and his love for music.

“[My dad] was classic rock all the way.  It’s pretty cool because it really influenced me.  I am happy that I know all of these artists now because I meet people my age who say, ‘Who are the Beatles, or who is Bob Dylan?’.  He was musical and played guitar and he was the one who taught me.  He bought me this crappy Washburn guitar that was black, and when I was eight I thought it was awesome,”  she said with a chuckle.

Rebekah Todd @ Tipsy Teapot

She continued to laugh as she told me that the first song he taught her to play on the guitar was Wild Thing.  Todd and her father continued to play together at home until she started playing in different high school bands with her friends.  Over the years of playing with her dad and others, Todd pulled inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, which has shaped the music she writes and performs today.

“I went through the classic rock phase, and then I really got into people who had a soulful voice, like Lauryn Hill, who is one of my favorites.  I literally wore her CD out [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill].  Now I am into the more bluesy sound with singers like Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band.  I really admire artists like that,” said Todd.

Though she can cover songs ranging from Led Zeppelin to Katy Perry, Todd’s bread and butter is in songwriting.  To date she has recorded about 16 original songs, but admits that there are many more waiting the wings that need to evolve a bit before she will bring them into the studio.

“Sometimes I will be sitting and playing and [a song] will come then, and other times I will get a tune in my head and I will literally pull my cell phone out, hit video, hold it out, and sing into the video.  I used to carry around a tape recorder before cell phones.  I think that started because when I was really young my parents bought me a karaoke machine that I could put a tape in and record my singing and listen to it.  It’s funny how the steps that your parents take totally mold what you become,” Todd shared.

Songwriting for Todd is a very natural, organic, and “in-the-moment” process.  Her songs are passionate and moving because they are honest.  Like most artists, Todd finds inspiration in her life experiences and channels those emotions into her songs as well as her art.

Rebekah Todd

“One time I played with this band called Cool Hand Luke out of Tennessee and Mark came up to me and said, ‘I really like your music because you are honest with what you are going through and what you are feeling’.  Ever since he said that I took it and tried to apply it to everything I was doing.  I’ve come to find that people can relate to your stuff if you are brutally honest with your feelings because then they can say, ‘Oh yeah I feel the same way’.  With my situation now, with having a loss in the family, everyone can relate.  Sometimes it’s hard because you really have to go into your emotions and that can be painful.  It’s the same with art.  You pull it out and you put it on a canvas or put it into a song and hope that people can relate to it,” she revealed.

Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from East Carolina University, Todd is ready to hit the road and share her music with the world.  She’s completely devoted to throwing herself into writing and touring as much as she can, while maintaining a realistic outlook.  She knows that with a hopeful heart must also come a level head, and she’s willing to put in the time and work to pursue her dream.

“It’s tough as an acoustic girl to say, ‘I promise that I can bring it’.  It’s something you have to slowly prove and know the right people.  I am working on it.  It’s a weird road.  A lot of people say I should think about getting a band.  That could be cool, but I just don’t feel right with it right now.  I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can do it without the band.  I just graduated and I have all of the time in the world,” she said with a hopeful grin.

So far she’s got a great start with several club shows and festivals booked across the state, and hopes to add a small northeast tour towards the end of August.  In between shows Todd will continue to write songs and dabble in her second love, painting.  Though Todd admits to being very comfortable in the “opener” slot, I suspect she’s  going to be pushed out of her comfort zone fairly soon.  She wont be able to hide in the shadows of bigger acts for too long.  The main stage awaits her.

To learn more about Rebekah Todd’s music and upcoming shows, please visit her website.

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