Alicia Bay Laurel

Living in Hawai'i Style

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It took Alicia Bay Laurel nearly half a lifetime and years of concerted study in a variety of styles before completing her debut album but, oh, was it worth the wait. A gorgeous amalgam of John Fahey-style fingerpicking, modal passages, and lovingly sacred sentiments, Music From Living on the Earth was a sparkling stream of music pure from the heart. It took but mere months for Laurel to back up those sentiments with a second album that is every bit as compelling and beautifully realized, although it is considerably different in both tone and purpose. Living in Hawai'i Style is instead a collection of Hawaiian songs -- some traditional, some native, and indeed, some from the pen of Laurel herself, a longtime resident of the 50th state. Although a few have (most notably jazz guitarist George Benson), ha'oles (or "gringos") have not traditionally been accepted with ease into the wider Hawaiian musical community. But Laurel proves herself acutely in tune with the nuances, subtleties, and details of traditional island styles, and the gorgeous open-key melodies or her original tunes are tailor-made to Hawaii's deep legacy of slack key guitar. Without debating the notion of authenticity, it can at the very least be said that Living is a supremely humble and giving album, both toward the listener and toward the Hawaiian musical history that it upholds and extends. That it goes well beyond is the album's most endearing grace. Far from playing shallow and dilettantish, Living is, in fact, a paradisiacal love letter to Hawaii's musical lore and to the place the artist calls home, and it could not honor the tradition any more than it does. Laurel studied Hawaiian musical culture for more than two decades before even attempting to put her learning on tape (although some of the original songs date to the mid-'70s), and the album benefits greatly from that level of sensitivity and deference, as it incorporates nearly every style endemic to the islands, from ancient chant and drinking songs to a birthday tune, wedding songs, wonderfully breezy hulas, environmental anthems, and songs of welcome. With ample help from the widely respected Hawaiian jazz guitar great Sam Ahia and ravishing vocal support from spiritualist, composer, and educator Lei'ohu Ryder, Living in Hawai'i Style is every bit the blissful oasis that Hawaii often seems itself. (The album, along with the artist's first, is available from Twiggs Company at 800-898-0286 or 2842 Samco Rd., #V, Rapid City, SD 57702 .)

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