It's not often that I feel completely unqualified to review an album. My knowledge of Hawaiian music begins and ends with Don Ho, and to me, Facing Future mostly sounds like the kind of schmaltzy crap that you'd hear while buying low-fat piña colada yogurt at Santoni's. But I can hear something distinctly foreign in the music, something that doesn't meld with the dirty streets and cold, winter air of Baltimore. I can hear warmth, and sunlight, and calmness, and friendly people, and water. I can hear the smile of someone who makes peaceful music because he is peaceful, not because he is selling the commodity of Inner Peace™. I can hear joy.
But what do I know? I'm a guy who lives in a place where we kill each other over orange peels on the sidewalk. I'm a guy who lives in a place where the mayor rides around on a garbage truck but doesn't show up to rallies protesting the murder rate. I'm a guy who lives in a place where, when the snow melts, the alleys are filled with thawing rat corpses.
Guys like me, we're cynical about joyous music. If anybody wants to fly me and the EPFL's copy of Facing Future out to Hawaii for a few weeks, I'll give it a fresh listen, and I'll tell you how it sounds from Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's old stomping grounds. Until then, I think I'm going to put on something that sounds better against the police sirens and junkies who harmonize outside my bedroom window.
Unless you haven't seen any movies or been to any weddings in the past 10 years, you've probably heard Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World." And that's good, because his take on those two songs is absolutely wonderful. Really, it's worth checking this out just for that track, and that track is the only reason this CD scores as high as it does. His version of "Take Me Home Country Road" is kind of fun, because he turns the song into an ode to Hawaii. "Hawaii '78" captures the thing I like best about Facing Future, though, which is that Kamakawiwo'ole sounds like a man who was delighted to be alive, despite the fact that life is far from perfect. That's a sentiment that us Baltimoreans could use a lot more of.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a big man. I don't know if he was proud of it or just at peace with it, but he certainly didn't try to disguise it. The cover is refreshing in a world where entertainers are judged as much on how good they look in a bathing suit as they are on their talent. Other than that, there's nothing particularly special about the graphic design. Lyrics might've been nice, but if he was only going to include words to one song, his choice to include "Hawaii '78" was the right choice.
Listen if you like: World music, Hawaiian music, joyous music
If it were food, it'd be: something I don't think we get much of in Baltimore, like eating a fresh papaya as the sounds of a ukulele struggle against the roar of the ocean.