Posts Tagged ‘Hawaiiana’

Peter Rowan: My Aloha!

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

A love letter to Hawaiian aloha from an old country soul

Though mainly viewed as a bluegrass musician, Peter Rowan’s musical adventures have also includes rockabilly, blues and rock. For much of his career, starting with his 1965 induction into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, he’s played bluegrass, teaming with David Grisman in Muleskinner and Old and in the Way, touring with his brothers, and continually growing his roots in new directions. His latest album seemingly takes a bit of a detour, indulging in Hawaiian-influenced original material as he collaborates with island musicians, and, just as importantly, vintage, region-specific instruments.

But what might at first look like a detour, turns out to be an extension of his roots. Having spend downtime on the beaches and in the clubs of Hawaii, Rowan’s found connections between island sounds and his bluegrass roots, and made friends out of those who carry on the traditions. Here he’s gathered a few of his island colleagues, and they brought along vintage guitars, ukuleles and mandolins whose resonance with one another is astounding. As Kilin Reece writes in the liner notes: “It became immediately clear to us that these entities of wire and wood had a lot to say to each other.”

Rowan’s originals are filled with aloha as he pines for a departed hula girl, is mesmerized by love and nature, and contemplates the inevitability of mortality. The tempos are relaxed and the mood serene as Jeff Au Hoy’s slide provides a distinctive sound, and Rowan’s voice edges into falsetto. It’s hard to imagine a younger or less-experience musician making an album this loving of a second spiritual home. If you’ve been to Hawaii, this album will remind you of the enveloping warmth of the air and the sunset’s perfect hue; and if you haven’t been, this album will make you long to go. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

Various Artist: Hula Land – The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Various_HulalandTheGoldenAgeOfHawaiianMusicHawaiian roots and their many colorful blossoms

Those looking for a history of native-made Hawaiian music may be disappointed by this set. But they’re about the only ones. Most will enjoy the four discs’ and 102-page hardbound book’s exposition of Hawaiian music and its multiple eruptions in mainstream entertainment. While the set does include a helping of native-made Hawaiian sounds, particularly on disc three, its reach is wider and its statement broader. In both sights and sounds, this set essays both the roots of Hawaiian music, and its many manifestations in pop culture. As the book’s photographs and sheet music art demonstrate, Hawaii has long been both a destination and a mythology, and there are few places the two elements have fused more fully than in music.

Tempted by brilliant poster imagery and stoked by the speed of plane travel, South Seas tourism flourished in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Upon arriving in the Hawaiian islands, visitors found both authentic and ersatz culture awaiting them. And upon their return to the states, tourists brought back memories and souvenirs that served to deepen Hawaii’s allure as both a vacation getaway and a dramatic visual setting. Hawaii has provided a picturesque backdrop for films, television shows, commercials and even cartoons, and its songs and instruments (particularly the ukulele and steel guitar) provided material for a surprisingly wide range of non-Hawaiian artists. Hulaland pays homage to the stateside displays of Hawaiiana that grew from island roots, blossoming in Hollywood, Chicago, New York and elsewhere.

The set opens with Louis Armstrong singing “On a Little Bamboo Bridge,” backed by the Waimea-born Andy Iona and his group, the Islanders. Iona’s mix of traditional melodies and American swing provided a welcome spot for the New Orleans-born Armstrong, and together they lay out a template of the set’s riches. Disc one includes Hawaiiana from several unlikely artists, including Jo Stafford, Ethel Merman, Burns & Allen, Dorothy Lamour and the yodeling country star, Slim Whitman. The disc explores everything from kitschy ‘30s cartoon themes to ‘50s steel-guitar swing, and shows how Hawaiian music was popularized by native-born artists, collaborators and appropriators.

Hawaiiana threaded into popular music throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, with Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman developing their inventive strain of exotica in the mid-50s. Disc two explores these exotic sounds as their waves echoed in a stateside culture gripped by rock ‘n’ roll and surf music. Here you will find the full flower of American media’s fascination with Hawaii in the television themes from “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hawaiian Eye,” and a lap steel variation on “Peter Gunn.” Also included are selections from several of exotica’s pioneers, and others, like organist Earl Grant and guitarist Billy Mure, who were swept up by the wave. By the early ‘60s, Hawaiian music was often more of an ancestral headwater than a direct tributary to the mainstream, as classic island themes were rendered with twanging electric guitars, sung in doo-wop vocals and accompanied by jazz arrangements.

Disc three returns the listener to the 1930s for a disc of Hawaiian classics, waxed primarily in Los Angeles and New York, with a few Honolulu recordings thrown in for good measure. The song selections mirror some of the selections on the previous discs (e.g., “Hawaiian War Chant” and “Ukulele Lady”), providing listeners an opportunity to compare. Disc four splits the difference by sampling contemporary acts that play a wide range of material (including the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”) in vintage style. The time hopping between and within the discs adds to the image of Hawaii as a timeless, Xanadu-like paradise. The set’s old-timey acoustic music blends surprisingly well with the Hawaiian-themed jazz and rock, and the last disc’s contemporary performances are powered by the same breezes as the set’s earliest tracks.

In many ways, the four discs provide a soundtrack for the 102-page, 9×11 hardcover book in which they’re housed. The rattan-textured cover and heavyweight, glossy pages are stuffed with eye-popping reproductions of vintage photographs, full-page sheet music covers, postcards, and travel posters. James Austin’s liner notes (which, along with other text in the book, are riddled with typos unbecoming of a set this lavish) provide context for the project, and a bit of history on Hawaiiana, but not the sort of detail on artists, songwriters, publishers and licensing one might expect. But this set isn’t intended to be a scholarly tome on Hawaiian music or even Hawaiiana; it’s an alluring brochure that beckons with romantic images meant to be imbibed rather than studied. As the notes say, “this is for tourists, not purists,” so dim the lights, mix yourself a Mai Tai, and enjoy. [©2015 Hyperbolium]