"Grin, even when you're at your lowest, grin," implores Mackey Feary on the opening track of his 1978 solo album Mackey Feary Band. "You're Young" is all sun and breeze, making it near-impossible to suppress the requested grin. It's languid yet funky, with shimmering guitars, wending saxophone, and sweet female background voices adding to the luster. As a founding member of Kalapana, Feary had been at the vanguard of Hawaiian pop in the 1970s; alongside such artists as Cecilio and Kapono and Keola and Kapono Beamer, Kalapana delivered a rich, smooth style of soft rock not incompatible with the mainland sounds today affectionally dubbed "yacht rock." But there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about Feary's work inside and outside of Kalapana; these beautiful and breezy sounds were all from the heart. That's in ample evidence on Mackey Feary Band, just reissued by the Honolulu-based label Aloha Got Soul and pressed on opaque red with black swirl standard-weight vinyl for the Vinyl Me, Please record club in a limited edition of 300 units.
For Mackey Feary Band (initially titled Macky Feary Band with the artist's name misspelled - a situation happily rectified for this reissue), the singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist was joined by a host of guests, many of whom will be familiar to fans of the '70s Hawaiian music scene: Kevin Daley on drums/syndrums, David Yoshiteru Gibson and Gaylord Holomalia on piano, keyboards, and synths, Jimmy Funai on guitars, Creed Fernandez on percussion, Gabe Balthazar on saxophone, Johnny Madrid on flugelhorn, and Nohelani Cypriano, Bonnie Gearheart, and Azure McCall on background vocals. Brian Robertshaw provided the horn and string arrangements.
An intoxicatingly romantic air pervades Mackey Feary Band on the electric piano-driven "Catherine" and string-swathed "Lullabye." Feary was dismissed by his bandmates in Kalapana after just two albums and such classic songs as "The Hurt" and "Nightbird." But if there was any bitterness, it didn't show on his solo debut. Jazz, pop, rock, and soul melded on the reflective, open-hearted "I Remember You" and the sweetly effusive "It Takes Two," the latter co-written with Chuck Souza and featuring successive musical solos. Feary embraced an irresistible groove on Souza's bright, uptempo "A Million Stars" (featuring a flugelhorn solo from Johnny Madrid) and veered off into expansive musical directions on David Yoshiteru Gibson's shape-shifting "My Hands Do Play" and the brassy, epic instrumental "Powerslide." The latter showcases the cinematic ambitions of this most impressive solo debut.
Only more album was released under the Mackey Feary Band name but the artist continued to record and perform both solo and with a reformed Kalapana. Personal demons got the better of him in his final years, and Feary died by his own hand in prison in 1999 at just 43 years old. But his beautiful spirit and music live on in this loving reissue. The original album artwork has been handsomely restored and a four-page black-and-white insert includes reissue producer/Aloha Got Soul founder Roger Bong's affectionate liner notes as well as photos and lyrics. Jessica Thompson has remastered the sound for this quiet and subtle vinyl presentation pressed by Gotta Groove Records. Aloha Got Soul has already announced plans to bring Kalapana's debut album back to vinyl; one hopes that future Feary solo efforts receive this same treatment.
Vinyl Me, Please has also teamed with Aloha Got Soul for another album reissue, this one from a few years earlier. Eddie Suzuki and New Hawaii's High Tide, from 1974, has been pressed by Gotta Groove for VMP on clear with opaque red and yellow swirl vinyl (also limited to 300 units). Pianist-singer-songwriter-entrepreneur Suzuki played Hammond organ and ARP synthesizer on the LP with support from New Hawaii, a.k.a. Nani Kauiwa on vocals, Laurence Harada on guitar, John Schulmeister on bass, and Gary Fittro on drums.
Liner notes author Jeremy Cargill tells us that Suzuki - also a store owner and a talent manager who once repped songwriter Kui Lee ("I'll Remember You") - kept a prolific schedule as a lounge/showroom entertainer throughout the Islands. Indeed, the soft, groovy, and lightly psychedelic sounds of High Tide are transporting back to that particular place and time, and it's not hard to imagine the clanking of mai tai glasses in a smoke-filled bar while the record plays. But that atmosphere, with imaginary palm trees swaying just off the hotel lobby, is not to its detriment.
Significantly, the music on High Tide is all original, as opposed to some of the albums released by other Island showroom stars of the era such as Liz Damon's Orient Express or Dick Jensen. (Their music is well worth seeking out, too.) Suzuki, whose modest, earthy vocals are complemented by the ethereal tones of Nani Kauiwa, celebrated the rich tapestry of Hawaii in his compositions. Though the New Hawaii band never played together live, they were a tight unit capable of bringing Suzuki's tranquil visions to life.
Many of the selections on High Tide take the listener to a specific Island locale. The lyrics are simple on such musical travelogues as "Maunalani Hale" ("Warm and gentle breeze so cool and so free, I love Enchanting Place, Maunalani Hale"), "Fly to Waikiki" ("Come fly to Waikiki with me, where smiling faces you will see"), and "Kona" ("Rugged shores, sandy beaches by the beautiful sea, place called Kona, it's Kona for me") but the overall effect is happily disarming. Other tunes on High Tide conjure leis, sea shells, and the Hawaiian legend of the Lehua flower. An airline circa 1974 could have done much worse than to have adopted one of these songs for a television commercial.
Musically, High Tide most recalls a seventies lo-fi take on exotica. It's seemingly far-removed from the slick, smooth rock sounds of Mackey Feary and Kalapana but touches on some of the same influences with nods to jazz (the swinging "Kona"), soul ("Legend of Lehua"), funk ("Beauty Near Hanalei" and the surprisingly searing "City of Refuge" with standout guitar from Laurence Harada), and pop (the gorgeous "Sea Shells," folk-tinged "Maile Lei," and gently driving "Pali") within its alluringly mellow framework.
Eddie Suzuki passed away in 2016 at age 87 having succeeded in various endeavors. However, a second, full-length album didn't arrive until 2014. The self-released Collector's Edition included some tracks from High Tide as well as re-recordings and more. High Tide reveals an eager-to-entertain talent who wrote and performed from the heart - a heart very much with his homeland of Hawaii. Like Mackey Feary Band, the reissue of High Tide boasts beautifully restored artwork and a four-page B&W insert with lyrics plus Cargill's essay and a brief note from Roger Bong. Jessica Thompson has again remastered.
While VMP's pressings of both Mackey Feary Band and High Tide were quickly snapped up, waitlists are still open for both titles. Non-exclusive vinyl versions are available directly from Aloha Got Soul, too. For those who might find themselves among the lush beauty of Oahu, the label has recently opened a shop - simply called AGS - in Honolulu. In the meantime, VMP will soon have one more exclusive from Aloha Got Soul: lounge legend Arthur Lyman's Island Vibes. Both of these currently available titles capture the romance and spirit familiar to anyone who's ever visited Hawaii, and are a welcome escape to a paradise both real and imagined.
- You're Young
- I Remember You
- A Million Stars
- My Hands Do Play
- It Takes Two
- Interlude in Mood
- High Tide
- Maunalani Hale
- Legend of Lehua
- Magic Mile of Waikiki
- Pikake Lei
- Sea Shells
- Maile Lei
- Beauty Near Hanalei
- Fly to Waikiki
- City of Refuge