(Editor’s Note): “Gullah” comes from West African language and means “a people blessed by God.” “Ranky Tanky” translates loosely as “Work It,” or “Get Funky!” In this spirit this Charleston, SC based quintet performs timeless music of Gullah culture born in the southeastern Sea Island region of the United States. The Gullah language is a form of Creole, and the Gullah people are also sometimes known as “Geechee” in the Low Country, a term which may be derived from the name of the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia.
Ranky Tanky is a South Carolina-based band playing their take on Gullah music, with Gullah referring to the African-influenced American communities in parts of Georgia and, of course, South Carolina. Their EP, Stand By Me, is rhythmic and jazzy. It’s not blues, but singer Quiana Parler has a soulful voice that many blues fans will enjoy.
Ranky Tanky’s songs often don’t have the same groove as the blues, with different beats accented. The melodies, which come from traditional Gullah songs, soar into jazz-tinged directions. That’s due to the band’s instrumentation, which features clean-enough-to-eat-off-of guitar tone and trumpet. It’s also due to Parler’s voice, which is powerful, but also beautifully precise. The melodies, on their own, might feel complicated to ears used to standard Western fare, but Parler manages to make the vocals accessible, without taking away any of their beauty.
And that’s the strength of Ranky Tanky: translating Gullah music. “Freedom” has a syncopated beat and choir-like vocals, with Parler joined by guitarist Clay Ross and trumpet-player Charlton Singleton. Kevin Hamilton’s bassline moves the song along and eventually the track transitions into a take on the “Star Spangled Banner.” It’s seamless, unexpected, and powerful, a melding of the new and the known.
An EP is like a calling card. It gives a band just a few songs to hook listeners, which can sort of feel like a plane trying to take off from a short runway. Ranky Tanky do a good job establishing their different sounds without too much lingering. “Sometime” is a manic beat driven by impossibly fast hand-clapping and enhanced with equally fast guitar work courtesy of Ross. It’s one of the jazziest songs on the album. It’s also incredibly heavy in its own way. It works well against a track like “All For You,” which is much sweeter, with its lilting melody and gentle lyrics: “All my loving is all for you.”
This is an impressive EP in that Ranky Tanky is able to put across a sound that many of us don’t have a convenient mental shorthand for. They manage to not just teach the listener about Gullah, but also to hook them. It might not speak to every blues fan, but soul and rhythm and blues fans might be intrigued by the epic vocals and huge arrangements. It also makes enough of an impression to get lots of listeners curious about their second full-length album, Good Time, which is out July 12.
Artist: Ranky Tanky
Title: Stand by Me
Label: Resilience Music
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
Running Time: 21:15