This reissuance of a 1952 LP gives rare insights into why Hawaiian music was such a mellifluous staple among cartoon animators and the street serenaders of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Genoa Keawe was a falsetto singer and, as liner critic Frank Shaner avers, that isn't something you go to school for. Ya either gots it or ya don't, and Ms. Keawe had it in spades. Though slack key and other South Pacific musics are enjoying a growing popularity, not many are done as authentically as Hawaiian Souvenirs, and it will come as a bit of a shock when the young Gary Aiko duets with the singer on three cuts, giving a surprising glimpse into where Bing Crosby got his crooning basics.
E Mama E is the most stunning song of the collection. Not only does Keawe climb the octaval register all over the place but sustains her melismatic notes beautifully, incredibly, before settling into what could only be called a mellow yodel. Arabic minaret vocalists and Minnie Riperton have nothing on her. Much is made of Yma Sumac and perhaps rightly so, but I'll take Genoa Keawe any day, what with the agile bird-on-the-wire pyrotechnics encanted so effusively here. An omnipresent slide steel guitar behind her adds to the liquid environment, acting much as a pedal steel does in continental western music, but what's truly magnetic is the amount of subtle variation and skylarking inflection in her voice. To appreciate it takes a lot more attentive listening than people are ordinarily prepared to give, but the effort shows why Hawaiians and non-island aficionados have treasured such singers as Genoa Keawe and her contemporaries, such as Bill Ali'iIoa Lincoln (reviewed here).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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