Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: 'Hulaland: The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music'


On its way to becoming Five-0 in 1959, Hawaii became a huge part of fifties Americana as continentals jetted down to the islands to soak in the sun and culture. Consequently, tikis, leis, and hula dancers are as unmistakably fifties as Thunderbirds, sock hops, carhops, Marilyn, and Elvis. Rockbeat Records’ new box set Hulaland: The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music makes its primary mission encapsulating the pacific retro-kitsch of the U.S.’s love affair with its most recent state. Ukuleles, peddle steel and slack-tuned guitars, clattering drums, and goofy pidgen Polynesian catchphrases are all over the music on the set’s four discs. However, as its title suggests, Hulaland is not just a bunch of songs with “Aloha” in the title—it is an attempt to create a fully formed world, and it does so by appealing to the other senses west, east, and south of the ears. Feel the wicker-like texture of the oversized book in which the CDs are nestled. See the pages and pages of gorgeous artwork inside that book: album covers, comic strips, and best of all, delightfully illustrated sheet music covers for tunes with names like “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula” and “Oh, How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo”. James Austin’s witty liner notes are perfectly in synch with the fragrant mood the entire set is driving toward.

Of course, Hulaland is primarily a collection of music, and the song selections tune in to the balmy mood as marvelously as everything else does. Disc One and Disc Two not only show how Hawaiian culture took over continental jazz, C&W, pop, blues, and R&R in the forties, fifties, and sixties, but they also contain samples of the advertisements, cartoons, radio shows, and TV themes (yes, “Hawaiian Eye” and “Hawaii Five-0” are here) that jumped on the grass-skirted bandwagon. The music on these discs is eclectic, eccentric, and consistently wonderful, and it comes from an assortment of strange bedfellows such as Louis Armstrong, Ethel Merman, The Ventures, Slim Whitman, Gracie Allen, Santo & Johnny, and Betty Boop.

Disc Three focuses on authentic Hawaiian music of the twenties and thirties, and interestingly enough, these pieces are much closer to typical American jazz and C&W than the mass of the first two discs. Still, this is another terrific selection of music even if it lacks the zany variety of the previous tracks. Disc four is even narrower in its focus, with eighteen newly produced numbers by musician and artist Robert Armstrong (the cartoonist behind Mickey Rat). These pieces are pleasant and polished, and there are several definite stand-outs (Elaine Hoffman and Ken and Bob’s “Pidgen English Hula”, Janet Klein and the Parlor Boys’ “Yiddish Hula Boy”, The Parlor Boys’ “Honolulu Stomp”, Ken and Bob’s acoustic cover of “Walk Don’t Run”, The Coconut Trio’s “In a Little Hula Heaven”), but the lack of variation of tempos and arrangements, and the fact that there are only eight different artists present, makes disc four the least enchanting one. However, there is so much to enchant on those other discs and inside the book that this is a non-issue. Overall, Hulaland is a perfectly conceived box set and a place I plan to revisit many, many, many times in the sunshine-baked days and moonlight-bathed nights to come. Aloha!

Get Hulaland: The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music on Amazon.com here:
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