Black Ivory Soul
I don’t usually stray too far into "World Music" in either my personal listening or for purposes of this column. However, several years ago a disc by an African artist named Angelique Kidjo caught my ear with its canny melding of exotic Afro-Brazilian rhythms and a mix of English and African language with Western pop structures.
Her latest disc is another treasure. Blending the tribal rhythms of her native Benin with funk, salsa, cool jazz and pop, Kidjo offers a celebration of cultural cross-pollination on Black Ivory Soul.
Kidjo’s vocal charisma and musical themes are so strong that her power to entertain reaches beyond simple boundaries of language. While the title track, "Black Ivory Soul," finds her mixing English and African language in a cool Sade-like melody (no one can take away from me/what’s inside my black ivory soul"), she usually sings exclusively in her native tongue. But the intensity of the feeling of the songs overcomes the fact that most people in the Chicago area won’t have a clue what she’s singing about. The cool jazz of "Bahia" is a gorgeous backdrop to her emotive vocals, regardless of what her subject might be. And in "Iwoya," she demonstrates exactly how unnecessary the exact meaning of the words are when you’re talking about music. With a funky backdrop of "do-do-do"s behind her, she sings in an African dialect while Dave Matthews duets with her in English. It’s an irresistably catchy track that I’ll be including on "party" compilations for summer barbeques…the mood is what matters. Likewise, the subtle but quick shuffling drum backing and shotgun-fast sung vocals of "Tumba" will send your feet into "wanna dance" mode regardless of the song’s theme. And you’ll find yourself unconsciously singing "ya-ya" along with the island-rhythms of "Refavela" without having a clue what you’re saying.
You don’t need to know the exact subject of "Olofoofo," to understand and embrace the bittersweet feeling that the lightly strummed guitars, slow shakers and yearning Kidjo croons evoke. And there’s no question that the chorus of singers backing her up on the head-bobbing "Afirika" are in full celebration mode.
Kidjo’s music is about mood and movement, rhythm and light. It’s a celebration of spirit that transcends all boundaries. No one, in any country, speaking any language, should skip this musical party. Consider this your invitation.
Consider this your invitation.
A Place To Land
If you've caught Dakota Moon's popular single "Looking for a Place to Land" on the radio (101.9 FM plays it a lot), you've gotten a good taste of the harmony-heavy, R&B flavored pop of this talented band.
Dakota Moon's 11-song sophomore album is filled with upbeat pop-rock that melds soulful singing with solid, chunky guitar riffs, both acoustic and electric. In an era of bland "boy" bands, Dakota Moon shows what it means to sing in harmony, yet still have an "edge."
At times the band sounds like smooth-voiced cousins to the rootsy crooning of Blessid Union of Souls ("Release Me"), while at other times it rocks strong enough to compete with the harmony rock dual vocals of Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw of Damn Yankees ("Lonely Days").
The gentle acoustic ballad "Release Me" carries the emotions of a lover at the end of his rope, while the tight harmonies of "Getaway Car" celebrate the power of love — and the human voice — with a soulful lead vocal and a full band power chorus ("we can run away/baby come as you are/you can look at my heart/as your getaway car").
After the rock riffs of "Let Me Have It" and the gentle guitar picking of "Looking for a Place to Land," it all caps off with the piano-based, gospel-influenced anthem "My Song." A Place to Land delivers on the promise of its title … from soul to rock to tender love songs, this disc offers a place for everyone.