taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder


reviews of local & state music CDs

Toubab Krewe all but destroyed the boundaries between West African and Appalachian music with their mind-bending 2005 self-titled release. With their long-awaited second studio album, simply titled TK2 and produced by guitarist Drew Heller’s father, composer Stephen Heller on Nat Geo Records, the Asheville instrumental quintet have their eyes set on rock music as a whole. Fans of their live performances are aware of their experimentation with new instrumentation, namely Drew Heller’s piano forays and ambient Moog underpinnings, which impress upon the album from the outset. In fact, the album leads off not with heavy polyrhythm or a blast of kora, but with one of his cabaret-influenced waltzes on “Mariama.” Justin Perkins’ kora is more Pepe Romero than Papa Susso, immediately expressing the willingness to further build upon the foundations of the first album, though fans of his reverberating surf guitar will love “Nirvana the Buffalo.” Luke Quaranta’s throttling percussion and Heller’s subdued rhythm create an ideal springboard for Perkins to tear into a searing psychedelic onslaught reminiscent of the self-titled’s “Buncombe to Badala” in ferocity. “Holy Grail” is one of their most startling tracks to date, marked by dank electronic soundscapes and visceral organ substrata entrenched against jagged outbursts of the kamelengoni. It’s the unfettered, tripped-out headphones experience that Toubab Krewe hinted at on record and have built their live shows upon. “Sirens” is a slow burner that’s as much Howlin’ Wolf as it is Ali Farka Toure, though as ambitious and captivating as TK2 is at once, it still sometimes feels like Perkins repeats kora phrasings from the first album, as heard on “Carnavalito” and “Mansani Cisse,” the latter an interpretation of the Djelimandy Tounkara piece. The ostinato runs at the heart of the matter are the mark of a skilled kora player, however, and Perkins is most certainly that. It’s how they’re utilized that gives them new life on TK2, as heard from the relentless full-band onslaught of “Mansani Cisse” to the gentle fade to black to off-the-cuff studio chatter of “One Night Watkins.” WithTK2, the band has intensified the Toubab Krewe experience to produce an album that is at times fierce and uncompromising in its delivery, yet at others utterly secure in gentility and grooviness. It’s the perfect nexus of what fans craved and where the band wanted to go.