is the sort of perfect summertime album that instantly transports you to a tropical isle where you bask under some gently swaying palm tree, caressed by balmy breezes, sipping some delicious indigenous beverage, and watching a distant sailboat slowly disappear over the horizon into the setting sun.
The exact location of the island is pretty much up to you this is a classic example of the sort of eclectic "island music" that you'll hear wafting out of windows from Nassau to Nuku'alofa.
Released in June on Tone-Cool
, Hanapepe Dream
is Taj Mahal's second album with the Hula Blues, multi-ethnic and multi-talented local musicians he got to know and play with informally while living on Kauai. (The first was 1998's well-received Sacred Island.
) As the album title suggests, Hawaiian influence abounds (Hanapepe is a small town on the west side of Kauai). There are several Hawaiian tunes: "Livin' on Easy" practically conjures up a troop of warbling beach boys, and we're not talking the Wilson Bros. here; the title track, which closes the album, drifts softly out to sea on a cloud of steel strings. But over the course of its 11 tracks, Hanapepe Dream
makes scenic stopovers around the South Pacific, the Mississippi Delta, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and the occasional spot in Africa, everywhere picking up something cool to add to the mix. Intra-song globetrotting is not unusual Hawaiian steel guitar meets a New Orleans horn section, to interesting effect.
This, of course, is classic Taj, and if you've managed to miss him over the last four decades or so, there's no time like the present to repair the oversight. While his musical roots are Southern (on his mother's side of the family) and Caribbean (on his father's), and he classifies himself in the blues tradition, his penchant for the alien yet strangely familiar influence has driven blues purists nuts since the '60s (when his superb first three albums, The Natch'l Blues, Taj Mahal
and Giant Step,
as well as dynamic live performances, made him one of the best known blues artists around). An engaging showman and unnervingly talented multi-instrumentalist, he's pursued the study of ethnomusicology all his life, drawing ever-fresh inspiration from around the planet. The results would, no doubt, occasionally surprise the authors of the tunes Mississippi John Hurt, one feels, did not envision "My Creole Belle" with a ukulele (let alone what sounds a whole lot like a tuba), and the Hula Blues version of "All Along the Watchtower" is by way of Kingston, but it all works just fine.
Longtime Taj fans will immediately note that several of the tracks "Stagger Lee," "My Creole Belle," "All Along the Watchtower" among them are tunes he's recorded from time to time in the past. It would be a mistake, however, to think this means it's just the same old same old. You're never quite sure how something's going to come out of this extremely multi-flavored musical stewpot, but Taj and the Hula Blues bring an unpretentious vibe, musical virtuosity and great chemistry to the project, and the result is a real treat.
In fact, get Hanapepe Dream
now, and when winter rears its ugly head, you'll have your nice welcoming island all ready.