Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Hawaii Calls: Webley Edwards Presents- Fire Goddess (1959), Exotic Instrumentals (1961)
Recently, I've seen "Hawaiiana" referred to as the poor man's Exotica, and I have to say I nodded my head in agreement with the sentiment. Not because Hawaiian music is intrinsically lame--anyone who's ever heard someone like Sol Hoopi knows this-- but because there's such a glut of "Hawaiian" records devoid of inspiration, conviction, or anything even resembling effort. Cash-ins on a trend. A trend largely kickstarted by a Mr. Webley Edwards, in fact.
Mr. Edwards is not a musician, but rather a radio personality. His career spans decades, and in fact he was not only the first to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor, but also the first man to interview the captain of the Enola Gay after Hiroshima, and the chief announcer for the Japanese surrender ceremony.
America's fascination with Hawaiian and Polynesian music predates both the war and the 1959 acquisition of Hawaii as a state (Edwards himself had lived there since 1928, and had started broadcasting the influential "Hawaii Calls" radio show as far back as 1935), but there's no mistaking the post-war scent in 1950's Hawaiiana. So it's rather fascinating that this one individual managed to play such a role in archiving and promoting pre-war Hawaiian music, reporting the WWII Pacific theater, and the post-war Hawaiiana boom. Considering the man's bona fides, it ought to be no surprise that if any Hawaiian record belongs in your Exotica Library, it was generated by him.
And Fire Goddess does indeed. Released in the same year Hawaii became a state, it was the fourth in a series of "Hawaii Calls" LPs released under Edward's name (in this case, "Webley Edwards with Al Keoloha Perry"), and featuring a variety of Hawaiian performers. I cannot attest to the authenticity of the music here, or account for which musician contributes what (the back cover scans do list the individual musicians, thankfully). I don't even know who lovingly ripped this LP and scanned the front and back cover art (thank you, ripper). I can tell you that I love this record.
Space Age Pop characterizes the Hawaii Calls series as a "pretty uninspiring assortment of chants and songs". I haven't heard every installment, so perhaps this is a general truth, but Fire Goddess (and 1961's Exotic Instrumentals) are, to me, anything but. Fire Goddess's deep, atmospheric, almost spooky vocal Hawaiian music with heavy overtones of classic Exotica immediately strikes me as something very special. Not your usual collection of chipper versions of "Hawaiian War Chant" and "Aloha Oe", the songs here are mournful, mythical, bonfire magic.
Grab this gorgeous 320 rip and please do enjoy on a balmy night.
Exotic Instrumentals is nowhere near as weird or dark. Hell, it opens with "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific. While that may be a fairly mainstream, inauthentic selection, it actually has a resonance to Edward's place in the zeitgeist of America's relationship to the "Exotic". His legacy and South Pacific's are twins, an appeal to the beauty and fantasy of the Islands and their redemptive possibilities juxtaposed with wartime realities and earnest attempts at bridging difficult cultural barriers. The undertone of blissful colonial obliviousness and white-man escapism lurks, of course, just below the surface, but perhaps not offensively so.
Lest I get ahead of myself: it's also just a really good version of "Some Enchanted Evening", the next best song from South Pacific after "Bali Hai", and certainly one much less seen in the Exotica canon. I love a good rendition of "Bali Hai" and it's one of the most significant examples of popular proto-Exotica but damn there are a lot of dead-eyed takes on that song.
As the back cover notes, "Hawaii is a melange of the exotic", and so we find Webley focusing (in a move ever-so-slightly daring) more on the "exotic" aspect than the Hawaiian. In addition to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" and of course several Hawaiian selections, there are compositions described as Chinese, Japanese, "Oriental Hawaiian", Polynesian, Filipino, and Tahitian. The atmosphere is typically idyllic: vibraphone-and-slack guitar paradise music for beach hammocks, tiki cocktails, and palm frond fans. But it's especially good in this regard. Not as surprisingly, rewardingly weird as Arthur Lyman can be in this mode, just very good. The production values are quietly excellent, and there's not a bad track. You can't lose.
320 rip from the same wonderful ripper. I cannot for the life of me recall where I picked this up, and can't seem to find it anywhere else on the blogs. I hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes, but thank you again, original ripper.