One of Schlockmania’s favorite compilations of recent vintage was Americana: Rock Your Soul, a delightful dig through the crates of lesser known soft-rock and smooth soul recordings. One of the neatest discoveries to emerge on this set was the existence of some high quality yacht rock created in the most fitting destination of all for this sound, Hawaii. Yacht rockers were left to wonder if the Hawaiian soft rock excursions on Americana were just fluke occurrences or if there was a strain of untapped smooth-FM gold waiting to be uncovered on Pacific shores.
Aloha Got Soul, a new compilation from Strut Records, provides an answer to this question by serving up just over an hour’s worth of high-caliber soul, disco and AOR cuts recorded by Hawaiian acts between 1979 and 1985. These selections were chosen by DJ Roger Bong, a collector of this material who also runs a blog and record label under the same name. The results make a great case for Hawaii as an overlooked hotbed of soulful mood music.
Aloha Got Soul often feels like you’re listening to a ’70s/80’s oldies station from an alternate reality, where a variety of pop music subgenres are shot through with a distinctive sense of Pacific cool. On the soft rock tip, Tender Leaf’s “Countryside Beauty” is a tribute to the great outdoors built on a taut acoustic-driven arrangement reminiscent of Loggins & Messina while Brother Noland’s “Kawaihae” is an adventurously arranged soft rocker that shifts time signatures in a lite-prog way and throws in a fun analog synth solo.
There are also plenty of numbers that offer a convincing pop-soul groove: “I Feel Like Getting Down” by Nova is a low-slunk funk groover perked up with party chatter and Aura’s “Yesterday Love” sounds like a Hawaiian variation on girl group soul, pumped by Earth Wind & Fire-style horns and nifty instrumental fade that goes in an unexpected jazz direction. On the blue-eyed soul tip, Roy & Roe’s “Just Don’t Come Back” is the kind of smoldering lost-love number you would expect to hear on a late ’70s Boz Scaggs album.
There are also some numbers clustered in the second half of the album that offer more upfront elements of traditional Hawaiian sounds. For example, Nohelani Cypriano’s “O’Kailua” is a delightful synth-layered number that has a Pacific folk refrain and a surprise burst of steel guitar. However, the key example of this musical strand on Aloha Got Soul is “Papa’a Tita” by Chucky Boy Chock and Mike Kaawa with Brown Co. It’s essentially a traditional Hawaiian folk song given a slick late ’70s production. The hybrid of styles produces a killer where smooth harmonies glide over a tightly-arranged backing of congas, tersely-strummed acoustics and even a bit of steel drum.
Simply put, Aloha Got Soul is a killer set of smooth sounds that offers a nice alternative to the usual yacht rock playlist. Everything is slickly produced, beautifully performed and rich with the late ’70s/early ’80s production values that play a big role in yacht rock’s charm. If you like comps like Americana, this is a must-buy for your next lite-FM listening session.