By: Bill Clifford
Asheville, North Carolina's Toubab Krewe fuses American blues and rock & roll with traditional music from West Africa. It's a sound that is best experienced in the live setting. Thus, the decision to release a live recording as their sophomore release is a wise one. Live at the Orange Peel (released November 29 on Upstream Records) captures the band in front of a hometown audience over New Years Eve weekend in 2007. Similar to the band's eponymous debut, the song titles on Live reflect numerous extended trips to West Africa, where various members have studied and absorbed local culture and performed with local musicians. Their instrumentation reflects this influence, particularly guitarist Justin Perkins also picks a kora as well as a kamel ngoni, both in the harp family of instruments, while percussionist Luke Quaranta bangs away at many different exotic percussion devices and djembes, none of which are prevalent instruments in American rock bands.
"Autorail" gets the performance off to a jovial, rolling start, with Perkins' atonal plucking of the many strings of the kora. The energy rouses for a song-ending chorus, where all members bring it up a notch. "Lamines Tune" keeps that vitality up and features the first of two guest performers from Rayna Gellert of Uncle Earl on fiddle. Disappointingly, her fiddle playing is not well amplified and is barely audible. Happily, she's featured (a little) more prominently on "51 FT Ladder," where her strings mirror the dexterous electric guitar of Drew Heller. On "Maliba," Perkins is front and center on the kora, his hands flailing and plucking on the 21-stringed instrument. It's an uplifting sound unlike anything in modern music today.
"Roy Forester" and "Moose" feature spoken word poet Umar Bin Hassan, who contributes the CD's only vocals. On the former, after a particularly upbeat and inspiring percussion jam between Quaranta and drummer Teal Brown, Hassan delivers a fast paced, stirring rant on the woes of modern American society. The nearly 14 minute rock jam "Moose" features the thumping rhythm of bassist David Pransky and Brown, as well as blues laden guitar wailing from Heller. Here, Hassan offers his 1993 tone poem "Jimi's Julu," a invigorating tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix. On closer "Buncombe to Badala (B2B)" Heller incorporates swelling surf guitar, while its title makes reference to Buncombe County, North Carolina and Badala, Mali, in honor of the band's many continental sojourns.
Sadly absent from this live recording is the group's traditional percussion jam – all five members tinkering away on any number of drums and odd percussion instruments – an ass shaking, mind bending, live music experience that blows the roof off any indoor venue they play. Nonetheless, Live at the Orange Peel is a fine representation of Toubab Krewe's first-rate musical talents and stage presence. This CD is highly recommended for anyone who's yet to attend a performance of one of North Carolina's most excellent new bands.
Here's the music video for "Buncombe To Badala."
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