Anyone alive and old enough to remember 1979 will probably tell you that it was a strange year. An extended hostage situation, an energy crisis, crazed and drunken folks smashing up disco records during a baseball game in Chicago. 1979 was just plain weird. During the summer of ’79, Chic had one of the biggest hits of the year, “Good Times”, in which they noted amid all the weirdness that, “these are the good times”. The lesson: when times are strange or bad, you still need to find and celebrate the good times, even if you need to create the good times on your own.
Fast forward 40 years. 2019 has been, to many people, a strange and disconcerting year. Now, in the middle of the year, South Carolina band Ranky Tanky have graced us with their second album, Good Time. As Ranky Tanky advises on the new album’s killer title track, “Good time, a good time / We gonna have a time.”
The South Carolina Lowcountry soul of Ranky Tanky‘s “Good Time” is musically light-years away from Chic’s urbane dance floor soul, but the message is essentially the same. Life can be rough, but it is essential to create your own good times. Even if Ranky Tanky’s “Good Time” doesn’t climb the charts as Chic’s “Good Times” did, it is every bit as successful at delivering the message. And, in 2019, every bit as necessary.
The ostensible roots of Ranky Tanky can be traced back to the College of Charleston, South Carolina, where Quentin E. Baxter (drums/album producer), Kevin Hamilton (bass), Clay Ross (guitar/vocals), and Charlton Singleton (trumpet/vocals) met while studying music in the 1990s. During their school years, the friends formed a jazz quartet called Gradual Lean but split to pursue individual careers. The college friends reunited in 2016 and brought in vocalist Quiana Parler to form Ranky Tanky. From the beginning, the purpose of the band has been to draw on the Gullah culture that originated among the descendants of enslaved Africans in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Four of Ranky Tanky’s band members have deep family roots in Gullah culture. The band’s name is a Gullah expression that roughly means “get funky”.
The music of Ranky Tanky is fully informed by the Gullah culture but Good Time never once comes across as a dull history lesson or lecture. The truth is that the heartache, joy, and sheer beauty so apparent in every groove of Good Time contains everything you need to know about the members of Ranky Tanky and their Lowcountry ancestors
Ranky Tanky doesn’t focus on a meticulous recreation of traditional Gullah music, which used only a cappella voices and body percussion. While the album’s charming closing track, “Shoo Lie Loo” does indeed feature only vocals and percussion, the rest of the album adds jazzy guitar and trumpet solos to the intricate vocals and percussion tracks that represent the Gullah sound. The band is loose and fun throughout, and Quiana Parler’s vocals are breathtaking. Throughout the album, from the thoughtful gospel tune “Stand by Me” (not the Ben E. King song) through to “Shoo Lie Loo”, the songs seem to live at the magic place where soul, jazz, gospel, and threads of other Americana-based music intersect.
Ranky Tanky’s Good Time is a beautiful piece of work that honors the Gullah culture while successfully updating it for the 21st century. Good Time is indeed a good time, but it is so much more. Good Time is a supremely soulful album, in every sense of the word “soulful”.