There have been some instant-fan-boy music discovery moments in my life, moments which I've learned to respect over the years. Moments when I get introduced to new music which feels at once familiar, enticing, exciting and overall right-fitting in my view of the universe. Emitt Rhodes, Elvis Costello, Jeff Buckley, The Cure, The Smiths, Frank Zappa and The Polyphonic Spree... Rimsky-Korsakov and Igor Stravinsky to Sarah Vaughan, Les Paul, Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette... For all of these artists I have little stories of discovery which are indelibly etched in my psyche, each with a common thread: I had an immediate love affair with their sound from the first notes I heard.
My latest discovery came courtesy of my friend Jaime and The Monterey Jazz Festival. We were planning our day at the festival and I was excited about finally getting to see Luciana Souza and a full set by Larkin Poe (whom I first saw when they were backing Elvis Costello several years ago).
Jaime was excited about seeing a group called Tank & The Bangas and during breakfast before we left for the fairgrounds he played me their NPR Tiny Desk concert via YouTube (click here for that). In 20 minutes I was hooked.
Their first time at the festival, they were booked on a venue stage perhaps a wee bit too large for where they were at career wise, but they were no doubt every bit as wonderful, charming and engaging as their Tiny Desk video... only bigger and grander. After the show we made a beeline for the merch area where I bought their album, noting that they were doing a signing later in the afternoon, which began while we were at Luciana Sousa (who was terrific, by the way!). After her set we scurried back to the merch area and it worked out perfect because we were among the last fans lined up for autographs with Tank & The Bangas.
The whole band got a kick out of my story when I explained to them I had just been turned onto them that morning! (note in these photos to the right how they signed my copy of their new album, Green Balloon!)
So how is their new album Green Balloon? It is a flurry of fun, friskiness and feelings. As a band, Tank and the Bangas cross all sorts of genre-boundaries, mixing up hip hop, jazz, soul, rock, funk, spoken word and Springsteen-like storytelling into a heady brew that at once recalls so many artists I love, yet its like none of them. Imagine if George Clinton's Funkadelic, electric Chick Corea, Roxy-era Frank Zappa and Meshell Ndegeocello had a big party with Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Marilyn McCoo, Flora Purim and Bette Midler and you might have some idea of where we're going... at least part of the time anyhow...
Juxtapose for example the lovely-charming waltz-like "Mr. Lion" -- which feels like its waiting to be included in a Broadway show -- with the broken beats and sugar-buzzed tale-telling of "Happy Town" which combines mad whimsey and a chill-wave grooves in a three minute sun-burst. "Smoke. Netflix. Chill" is a swinging groove revolving around a four chord descending (Beatles) "Dear Prudence"-like Fender Rhodes keyboard sequence which some how mashes up sexy hip- hop jazzy-vocal-scatting while somehow making me think of no less than The Jerry Garcia Band (circa 1980, click here).
Green Balloon is streaming on Tidal in 24-bit, 44.1 kHz MQA format and it generally sounds real nice in a bit larger-than-CD-quality (click here to jump to it). Its also on Qobuz in similar quality (click here for that). The vinyl version sounds fuller to my ear however, with a warmer soundstage and less in the way of sharp sonic edges. Curious to note that the band was only selling vinyl at the Monterey Jazz Festival -- no CDs! My copy of Green Balloon is on well pressed dark black standard weight vinyl, with no problems common to many modern pressings (kudos to UME's Verve Forecast label).
As much as I like the individual songs on Green Balloon, I have add that as an album it is a sprawling-yet-engaging end-to-end listen. I can't always say that about new albums these days.
You can find Tank and the Bangas' Green Balloon on Amazon in streaming, download, CD and Vinyl formats (click on any of the album titles in this article to jump to it). If you want the deluxe green vinyl version you'll have to get that from the band's website (click here).
I'm genuinely excited about discovering this band (better a little late than never) and am looking forward to see how they develop in the years to come.
Bring it on!