Song of the Islands

Marty Robbins

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Song of the Islands Review

by Timothy Monger

Hawaiian and country music have long been intertwined, and it could be said that without Hawaii's innovation of the steel guitar, the country music sound would be lacking one of its most signature elements. The bending and swooping of guitar notes played with a steel bar became one of the most identifiable stamps of the country & western sound, second only to the fiddle. The Hawaiian tourism boom of the 1930s popularized its breezy folk music on the mainland, leading to a gold rush of island pop crossover albums in the '40s and '50s. Among the popular artists to try their hand at a Hawaiian-style album was country star Marty Robbins. Loosely rooted in the country tradition, Robbins had already made forays into rock music when, in 1957, he recorded Song of the Islands, a 12-song collection of Westernized ballads portraying life and love among the Pacific islands. The honey-voiced singer added a bit of quaver to his falsetto and let the gentle steel guitars and ukuleles weave their magic, managing to breathe personality and charm into Hawaiian heartbreakers like "Constancy," "Now Is the Hour," and the wistful "Aloha Oe." Of course, it's mostly the lyrics and the ornamentation that keep it from being a straight-up country ballads album, but that hardly matters in Robbins' deft hands. It was the first of his theme albums and the formula worked well for the versatile singer. Just two years later, he would deliver his iconic Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, launching him into the most successful decade of his career. In 1964, he would tread similar waters with the Caribbean-themed Island Woman, but Song of the Islands remains one of the terrific curiosities of his lengthy career.

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