We like to think we’re pretty on top of things in the Charleston music world, particularly when we’re talking about bands who are, y’know, from here. But we admit that when the new Ranky Tanky album, Good Time, came out on July 12, it took us by surprise. (Available on Spotify and Apple Music) It’s not that we didn’t want a new release from our hometown heroes, but as big as the band has become in the last two years, it felt like it would be a while because of everything on their collective plate.
But now we have Good Time, another album of Gullah-inspired jazz, soul, funk and gospel, played expertly as usual by Quiana Parler (vocals), Charlton Singleton (trumpet, vocals), Clay Ross (guitar, vocals), Kevin Hamilton (bass), and Quentin E. Baxter (drums).
They hit the ground running with the churning, upright-bass-driven plea “Stand By Me,” and don’t look back, moving through dark, sparse jazz-funk (“Freedom”), irresistibly light-footed love songs (“All For You”), gospel-fueled exhortations (the title track), and reimagined traditional tunes (“Pay Me My Money Down”), before going out with Charlton Singleton giving well-deserved shout-outs to the band members on “Shoo Lie Loo.”
By the time the 12 songs on Good Time are over, it’s clear that topping the charts, touring the world, and becoming Charleston’s global Gullah ambassadors haven’t slowed Ranky Tanky down one bit.
In fact, it’s actually because they’ve been doing so much work that Good Time exists at all.
“It’s funny,” Hamilton says. “When we did the first album, we didn’t expect it to be as big as it was. And then it got all of that attention, and most of the time we had to react to that [first album] was on the road. We would play more shows and see the reaction, and that was the way we discovered that people were liking it. So any reflection that we did happened in real time while we were touring. More and more gigs started coming up, and more and more opportunities started coming our way.”
Being a creatively restless group, Ranky Tanky didn’t want to play the same stuff every night for months on end, so they began working new songs into the mix.
“We had all of this new material, so it was almost like the live show was a whole different band from the album,” Hamilton says. “So making the second record was kind of a natural thing, because we were so happy with the band’s progression. It became the next logical step because we were keeping everything fresh.”
When they finally hit Truphonic Recording Studios in Charleston to make Good Time, the band had two things going for them: Enthusiasm and very little time.
“We were very anxious to record,” Hamilton says. “But we were excited about it, too. And we didn’t have a lot of time to do it, so it was ‘go in there and knock it out.'”
Good Time is a fascinating mix of original and traditional material, and the band’s talent for completely reinventing vintage tunes is stronger than ever. Their version of “Pay Me My Money Down,” is perhaps the best example of their ability; the song’s more than a century old, and Ranky Tanky reinvigorates it by turning it into an infectious second-line-style Big Easy march, capped off by a fleet-fingered, tasty solo by Ross.
“I have to give Clay all of the credit for that song,” Hamilton says. “He mines a lot of old material that he feels like would work for us and brings it in for us to try out. He comes in and says, ‘Let’s give this a try, let’s play with it.’ Most of the time, it’s a very skeletal progression or melody and we’ll just jam with it and play with it and flesh it out. It’s actually not unlike when we write our original tunes. Someone will have a little piece of something that they bring in, and we’ll just play around with it.”
“I like to think about it as being a garage band mentality,” Hamilton adds, somewhat unexpectedly. “The attitude is, ‘Let’s just have fun with it and see what sounds good.'”
As one might expect from such a hard-working band, Hamilton says that Ranky Tanky is already thinking about their next step, primarily because they’re so excited about how well Good Time turned out.
“In my mind, there’s an obvious progression between the first album and the second album,” Hamilton says. “I’m looking forward to seeing it go further. I think there are a lot more things that we have to offer as a band. So I’m looking forward to more recording.”
And there might be some other surprises in store for us as the band moves forward.
“There’s been talk of some collaborations with people,” he says, slyly leaving out any specific names. “Right now we’re playing the Calgary Folk Festival, and part of the deal is that we get to jam with some of the other bands in the lineup. And we’re keeping those phone numbers. We’re keeping in contact with them. It’s really exciting for us right now.”