Tank and the Bangas Strut Smooth Confidence On Robust ‘Red Balloon’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Tank and the Banga’s third release Red Balloon aims for broad appeal with modern hip-hop, R&B, and smooth soul coursing throughout the album. The talented New Orleans-based quartet used the pandemic to hone their sound delivering a strong album that flows out with ease. 

‘Radio TATB’ is a theme throughout the record as the core group Tarriona “Tank” Ball (frontwoman, lead vocals), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drums), and Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute) invite famous friends and hometown pals along to spruce up their catchy broadcast. 

Wayne Brady kicks it off and returns with a commercial to wrap up the popping, of-the-moment lead track, “Mr. Bluebell” which calls out to underpaid teachers and intrusive government. Ball’s vocals are enchanting, dropping into MC rhyming with swagger, poetic spoken word with gravitas, or sweet soulful flutter with easy grace. While the vocals are a clear focal point, the musical accompaniment never fails to lay down sensuous grooves in support. 

“Oak Tree” is a stunner as Tank flowingly addresses global warming and the destruction of the earth directly around beats reminiscent of classic Pharcyde, with added horn breaks, a true winner. When the band fully drops into hip-hop the results can be mixed, the direct bounce of “Big” with Big Freedia is a great jam, “Anxiety” certainly captures the title ailment but the one-note “Who’s In Charge” plays more like a skit than a full song.

The middle of the album is dominated by funky soul with an 80’s influence, producing a few standout offerings. Questlove introduces “Why Try” which pulls from both Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson to get dance floors bumping before “No ID” shines a poppy disco vibe even brighter, back-to-back they raise the bar of Red Balloon. As does the spoken word ode to complicated Black life “Black Folk”, which brings on Alex Isley and Masego to augment the modern jazz sounds.  

Those jazz vibes dip into their hometown as Trombone Shorty and Jamison Ross deliver the coffee and beignets in “Café Du Monde” but the band pays more tribute on Red Balloon to Stevie Wonder than say Louis Armstrong. The fluid numbers, like the piano/flute/synth bass focused “Stolen Fruit” and the drum lead around breathy vocals of “Heavy” both feel directly inspired by Wonder’s 70’s output. DJ Soul Sister wraps up the radio theme with an intro to the quirky poetry based “Jellyfish” before sweet seventies soul sounds close things on “Where Do We Go” featuring Lalah Hathaway and Jacob Collier.      

2019’s Green Balloon grappled with trying to capture the band’s live exuberance, but the guest augmented Red Balloon just floats along, strutting smooth confidence from the get-go. Tank and the Bangas are primed for a huge breakthrough with the inspired Red Balloon.  

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