The Blue Hawaiians


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This sophomore release is actually a debut in a couple of ways, marking the first studio album for the Blue Hawaiians as well as a first taste of their original material. To this end, Sway stays afloat gracefully in uncharted waters with a sound that soothes, grooves, and cruises at modest speeds. Although the album's a bit formless as it strolls out of the starting gate, their premiere, Live at the Lava Lounge, opened in much the same way, building momentum as it progressed. Here, the album just starts to show flames curling around the edges by track three, the Mancini-penned "Banzai Pipeline." Michael Murphy adds the right age of cheese to the track on the Hammond B-3, here and elsewhere. The fun continues with a curtsey and a submissive smile during "Casino," featuring Japanese vocals by Karu Mansour -- it's an island lullaby that evokes clich├ęs, nostalgia, and geishas in grass skirts. The songs continue cruising toward the sweltering coastline by way of convertibles, zoot suits, and bowling shirts, only to arrive under the grass hut for "Martini Five-0," the most sublime version of the TV theme heard in some time -- it's Jack Lord after solving the big case and sharing a cold one with Danno. "Swingin' Hula Girl" features bassman Mark Fontana on vocals and some fine Hawaiian steel guitar work by new member Gary Brandin from the Vanduras. "Drop the Hammer Max!" has both a great live sound and the rhum-bunctious pounding of Tom Maxwell on drums. "Sharkskin Saddle" tips a ten-gallon hat to the cowboys in a genre-blending theme from guitarist Mark Sproull that skims the sonic surface of country, jazz, and blues. "Charade" and "Tortolla" elevate upwards to somewhere around the James Bond versus Tarantino atmosphere in their own distinctive way, but it's "Drunk Man Noodle" that finally breaks the sound barrier -- a drag-race trio of welcome ferocity. Brief as it is, it's a much-needed energy boost, and the longest the claws are going to get this time out. Next, as if collecting themselves, the band smooths out their hair again for a reprise theme of "Da Cat," as if to say, "just kidding with the angst." The album-closer, "Element 86," is a mysterious, seven-minute swarm of guitar noodles and drum rolls that rise and fall in the spirit of improvisation for inspiration's sake -- or is it the other way around? Track for track, Sway maintains a more languid and restrained energy. The waves weren't as good that day, the mahi mahi wasn't as fresh as it could've been, but hey -- it's still Hawaii.

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