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World Music CD Reviews North American

TAJ MAJAL & THE HULA BLUES

By MICHAEL STONE
Published May 30, 2006

Hanapepe Dream
Tone-Cool/KANDU Records

Hanapepe Dream, Taj Majal's second recording with the Hula Blues and first Tone-Cool release, marks the ensemble's inaugural U.S. tour. A longtime Hawaii resident and tireless proponent of world musical fusion, Taj proffers a unique meld of Hawaiian slack-key guitar und ukulele, African-Caribbean folk and the down-home blues that comprise his stock in trade. Hanapepe Dream confirms both his remarkable range and an omnivorous taste for global roots music. Consider the wry "King Edward's Throne," a minor-key calypso on the vagaries of love in high places; "Great Big Boat," a folksy Caribbean ditty; a hula-inflected "Livin' on Easy"; the gravelly vocal delivery of "Baby, You're My Destiny"; a Crescent City read of "Stagger Lee"; a menacing, saxophone-punctuated execution of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower"; a laid-back ukulele- and clarinet-backed interpretation of "My Creole Belle" (Mississippi John Hurt is smiling somewhere); the reggae-tinge of "Black Jack Davy" (purists may cringe, but that would be missing the point) and "African Herbsman"; and in closing, the title track's endless looping invocation of the pedal steel sound underlying Hawaiian slack-guitar style. A tour-de-force.