Rant ‘N’ Roll: Kidjo, moe., Vintage Blue and The Zambonis

Angelique Kidjo, from the West African country of Benin, is a treasure. For her first live album, Spirit Rising (Razor & Tie), she enlists Josh Groban (boo!), Dianne Reeves (yay!), Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (who?) and one of my favorite living saxophone players, the mighty Branford Marsalis in a 16-track world-music party that had me dancing in my own house (not hard to do; I dance every day).

Filmed for a PBS concert special that includes the dancers from Broadway’s Fela!, Kidjo is also joined by three horns from Berklee College, the Borromeo String Quartet and the Kuumba Singers. Plus, the great jazz bassist Christian McBride graces her band!

The material keeps it moving: Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” Jagger/Richards’ “Gimme Shelter,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime” from the 1935 musical Porgy And Bess, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Vampire Weekend’s “I Think Ur A Contra” and even Maurice Ravel’s 1928 “Bolero.” Over and above these surprises, though, is the pure African soul of such ass-shakers as “Tumba,” “Afrika,” “Agolo,” “Malaika,” “Batonga” and five more.

Kidjo’s a force of nature. Her obvious onstage joy radiates in waves. Her voice, with its island inflections and considerable wallop, is a percussive instrument in its own, as well as a melodic bird in flight, as it wraps itself around the sensual sax of Marsalis, fights off Groban, gets into some playful banter with Reeves and overpowers the Vampire Weekend guy.


It’s been nine studio albums in 20 years for the ultimate indie band moe. Now, moe. is on Sugar Hill, a real label, and they’re actually produced by a real producer—John Travis, who’s twiddled the knobs for No Doubt, Social Distortion and Kid Rock. The result is WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LA LAs, 10 idiosyncratic tracks of bubbling enthusiasm. Take “Bones Of Lazarus,” for instance. That should be known to all moe.rons, as they’re called, since the band has been doing it in concert for more than 10 years. Here, though, you might say it gets an overhaul, “a major transformation,” according to bassist Rob Derhak. Then there’s “Suck A Lemon,” written specifically for one of their psychedelic Halloween shows. Or “Downward Facing Dog” (don’t ask). Point is, even though they’re now on a respected label, they haven’t sacrificed one scintilla of their moe.ness.


So Chicago rockers Tanglewood are now known as Vintage Blue and they’ve followed up their 2010 California Road debut with Strike The Mics (self released; vintagebluemusic.com). Lead guitarist Ben Bassett and singer/guitarist/harmonicat Ryan Tibbs write the material from two opposing points of view when it comes to their main obsession—love lost/love found/love rotting away from the inside out. It’s an old-school sound of solid melody and carefully constructed compositions that strike a non-trendy chord. This is a band that sounds like it could have come from any one of the last three decades and that’s a compliment. The soulful vocals are offset by the band’s secret weapon: Matt Zimmerman on saxophone and keyboards. His instrumental flair gives color and muscle to these 13 tracks as Bassett and Tibbs moan about relationships: Whether it’s how the meaning of a ring is, in reality, total bullshit (“Speak”) or the experience of two people who hardly know each other swept up in a tide of emotion and environment for a short period of time (“What Lies”). Good stuff. Call it instant classic rock.


Those hockey-crazy Zambonis are at it again. Five-Minute Major In D Minor (Blue Line Recordings) is novelty power pop with all 15 tracks about their favorite sport including the Hartford Whalers theme song (“Brass Bonanza”), as well as “Fight On The Ice,” “Wild Hockey Weekend,” “I Got A Concussion,” “Hockey Mom,” “Goalie” and “Power Play.” The songs are short, snappy, infectious and funny.


That’s it for this week. I’m gonna get the puck outta here.