Work in Progress
By Al Kaufman
“Ramajay” means many things; from “party” to “show off.” But the definition that is most relevant for our purposes is an improvisational competition between pannist (or steel drummers). And, of course, these competitions often lead to showing off and party-like atmospheres.
The party atmosphere is what pannist Quincy Yates and singer/guitarist Tall Paul had in mind when they formed the bi-racial band, Ramajay Intercoastal. On this, their second recording (culled from a 2010 concert in Knoxville, Tenn.) they improvise on a vast array of pop tunes (with varying amounts of success), while sprinkling in some originals. All have that carefree, Caribbean feel that is strong enough that the songs smell like cocoa butter. It’s a formula that has made Jimmy Buffett an institution, and Parrotheads will enjoy the island takes on familiar tunes. Others may feel like they’re back in college listening to a mediocre cover band in a trendy bar.
First things first; there is not need to ever remake Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” especially with such a literal translation. They fare a little better with James Taylor’s “Mexico,” a song that aches for some island flavor. It’s tame, but fun, and the men with the balding heads and Hawaiian shirts covering their protruding guts will feel like they’re still party animals when they sing along. For their token toke song, they chose Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which they rework nicely and make their own, even to the point of retitling it “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” Instead of a song about trying to kick marijuana (which Petty has never come out and said it was about), it becomes a fun, summer-fling type of story.
The band’s originals, such as “Last Train to Kitty Hawk” and “Magic Cruise,” are mid-tempo rockers made special by Yeates’ panning. His opening to “Magic Cruise” is something special before the song then turns into typical Latin-tinged Raul Malo type number.
But the real crowd-pleaser here is their take on Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.” Yeates, Michael Robertson, and Alonzo Lewis put on a drumming extravaganza that fans of everyone from Buffett, to Rusted Root, to Vampire Weekend are bound to enjoy.
Ramajay Intercoastal play Old Crow Tavern and Grill in Sandy Springs on Saturday, July 9.