Rhymoi Music 2020
A dewy-eyed trip into the Halcyon days of Hawaiian songs – never maudlin, yet always spicy.
Veteran musicians playing classic songs on vintage instruments: the concept may seem similar to that of “Buena Vista Social Club” – another insular ensemble – but Hawaiian music has always been strikingly different from Caribbean. Perhaps, there was an influence of the archipelago’s climate which softened traditional motifs; and there certainly was an influence of American popular tunes, or hapa haole, which made the resulting mélange so honeyed and resonant. Seen by many as exotic – what with local versions of guitar, lap steel and ukulele – these melodies refuse to lose their magnetism, and here, selected by producer Ye Yuchuan, are the best examples of North Pacific bliss.
Spanning the period from the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century, the thirteen pieces remain arresting even today – especially today, in our troubled times – and, updated recently with electric instruments that spice up folk sound, they shine through stylistic patina. Once a cappella intro to “Aloha Oe” flows in on Tavita Te’o’s vocal harmonies and gives way to fluid strings and silvery vibes, retro images fill the aural room, and the fiddle-sprinkled jazzy ditty “My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua” leads the listener to a smoky juke joint. As Ken Emerson, Dean Parks and Jim Kimo West travel up and down the fretboards and take a “Sentimental Journey” cover in their stride, the drift gets increasingly exciting, “Honolulu March” exposing its country roots and “Hula Blues” jovially jiving towards Chicago, yet “Na Ali’i” is as playfully parochial as it gets for a cut featuring a sax solo.
Back from purely instrumental pastures to voice-delivered pictures, “Sweet Lei Mokihana” has a homely feel to it, and the short “Song Of The Islands” hosts a snippet of non-English lyrics, while “Nani Waimea” could perfectly fit Django’s repertoire, so there’s a lot of savory, exciting details, too. A time machine of sorts, “Aloha Radio Hawaii” emerges from the past as a gem that carefully gets passed to the future.