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Toubab Krewe, Mountain Heart
Toubab Krewe plays the Live Wire Music Hall Dec. 18


At 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18. With Cas Haley

Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St. $12

Guitar. Bass. Drums. Piano. Djembe. Kora. Kamelngoni. There's something soothingly familiar about the music of the Asheville quintet Toubab Krewe, something that flowers organically and breathes like the best midnight-jam bands streaming the wind over a campsite. But those African instruments, and their pureed incorporation into the funk-based mix, give Toubab an edge, a thrilling sort of international flavor, that elevates this band to another stratosphere entirely. The all-instrumental Toubab is, understandably, a grooving favorite at Bonnaroo.

It's worldbeat rock, like the Dead with Bela Fleck and friends sitting in. Jambase calls it "the national music of a country with no name that appears on no map."

Kreweman Drew Heller told an interviewer that the band members grew up with devout interests in everything from surf rock to blues to jazz to traditional Appalachian music. "It was not until traveling to and living in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali that we were exposed to how heavy the contemporary music scene is throughout this region," the guitarist said. "The volume of the music played throughout the capital city's nightclubs, the intensity of the playing, the angst in the delivery, there are so many familiar feelings and emotions being expressed in the music.

"We began this project with a love for everything we had grown up with, everything we were learning abroad, and all the unknown places it might deliver us to in the future." See


At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17

Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. US 80, Bloomingdale. $30

I haven't seen Mountain Heart since the departure last July of flat-top guitar picker Clay Jones. If his replacement, Jake Stargel, is even half as good I'll still recommend this contemporary bluegrass band with five stars (and Stargel, a 19-year-old native Georgian, is by all reports one of the best out there. So there you go). Mountain Heart's live shows are overflowing with energy, and when that's hand-in-hand with virtuoso playing and singing, you have a thrill ride of a show.

Mountain Heart has never disappointed me.

Banjo player Barry Abernathy, bassist Jason Moore, mandolinist Aaron Ramsey and fiddler Jim Van Cleve - a former member of Doyle Larson's Quicksilver - not only make sounding great look easy, they make it look fun. This isn't your grand-dad's bluegrass band - they don't just stand there, stiff-backed, and pick.

The lead vocalist and second guitarist is Josh Shilling (he also adds a bit of piano when it's called for). Shilling is a phenomenal talent who cut his teeth singing throat-twisting rhythm ‘n' blues - and his style, believe it or not, blends perfectly with that of his forward-thinking Appalachian bandmates. "We get out on the edge of acoustic music, or bluegrass for sure, and I think that's part of what's made it OK for me to be here," Shilling told us last year. "And it's also part of what's made me want to stay." See