Even today, the name of Arthur Lyman is synonymous with exotica. The late vibraphonist and marimba player (1932-2002), born in Oahu, recorded dozens of albums bringing his tropical style to everything from Broadway to folk, jazz, and pop hits. Now, Hawaii's own Aloha Got Soul label has reissued Lyman's final studio album, 1980's Island Vibes, including in a limited, foil-stamped and numbered edition from the Vinyl Me, Please record club pressed on translucent purple with pink vinyl.
Arthur Lyman learned his craft on a toy marimba, playing along to Lionel Hampton on Benny Goodman's big band records. He made his radio debut with the toy instrument at the age of eight; by his teenaged years, he'd graduated to the real thing and become a professional musician. The four-mallet style of playing gave Lyman greater freedom in forming chords, and he pursued a career in jazz. While making a living as a clerk at the oceanfront Halekulani hotel in Honolulu, Lyman met a key figure in his career: Martin Denny.
The pianist known as the "Father of Exotica" (1911-2005) was born in New York City but raised in Los Angeles. In 1954, he crossed paths with Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, a.k.a. Donn Beach, a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber. Don opened what is widely regarded as the first tiki bar in Hollywood in the 1930s and helped popularize tiki culture throughout America. (He even claimed to have invented the mai tai, as did Trader Vic's founder Victor Bergeron.) By 1954, Don had relocated to Hawaii where he brought the conservatory-trained Denny to play. Denny's group became so popular that soon they'd signed to Liberty Records and began spreading this new type of lounge music, "exotica," to the masses. Exotica, named after Denny's hit 1957 album, was characterized by its Polynesian flavor, atypical percussion, and relaxing, fantasy-inspired feel. It fit right into the mood music genre and invited listeners to imagine themselves someplace much warmer and more carefree.
Martin Denny took notice of the talented, 21-year-old hotel clerk and invited him to join his group. During his time with Denny's band, Lyman originated the bird calls that would become a key part of his sound. He played the evocative vibes on the original Exotica, among the band's other records, before striking out on his own. This caused a rift between the two men, but the decision was a good one: Lyman was on his way to earning three Gold records, top ten LPs including 1958's Taboo, and Hot 100 pop hits such as the No. 4 smash "Yellow Bird" in 1961.
Even after the U.S.' nationwide tiki mania subsided - though passionate fans remain today of the influential culture - Lyman remained popular, both as a recording artist and a fixture on the Hawaiian live music scene. Though he was most prolific in the 1960s, he recorded one LP in the 1970s with his daughter Kapiolani Lyman and one in 1980: Island Vibes. It was cut for Honolulu's Broad Records label (an offshoot of the Broad Recording Studio) with producer Gordon Broad, and represents Lyman at his most tranquil and reflective. Waves crash throughout the LP, both sides of which are sequenced as sidelong, uninterrupted suites of peaceful, relaxing music performed by the solo Lyman. With its blend of nature sounds and serene vibes, the album's eclectic array of songs - ranging from a revival of "Yellow Bird" to the traditional "Manu Oo," Ken Darby's 1958 exotica favorite "The Magic Islands," and Hawaiian singer Lani Kai's "Shells" - are all intimate, spellbinding, and calming.
Aloha Got Soul's first-time reissue is packaged in a simple jacket replicating the colorful original artwork by Ellis Applebaum, and the LP itself is printed with custom labels and housed in an inner sleeve. Unfortunately, unlike the equally stellar AGS/VMP reissues of Mackey Feary Band and Eddie Suzuki and New Hawaii, there are no liner notes or in-depth credits. (Even songwriters are missing.) The album has been mastered by Jessica Thompson and pressed on quiet, standard-weight vinyl by Gotta Groove Records. The VMP edition is limited to 300 numbered copies; while it's currently sold out, a waitlist option is available, and Aloha Got Soul's own pressing is also for sale.
Fans of exotica, tiki culture, ambient sounds, or the transporting music of Hawaii are all encouraged to spend a half-hour or so with these beautiful Island Vibes from pioneering musician Arthur Lyman. It's another fine release from the teams at Aloha Got Soul and Vinyl Me, Please. Check out Aloha Got Soul - both the label and physical retail store in Honolulu - here, and Vinyl Me, Please at this link.
Arthur Lyman, Island Vibes (Broad Records BRS-1009, 1980 - reissued Aloha Got Soul AGS-061, 2021)
- Imi Au La Oe (King's Serenade)
- Old Plantation (Ku'u Home)
- Pua Mana (Sea Breeze)/Paoa Kalani/Whispering Reef
- The Magic Islands
- Akaka Falls
- Manu 'O'o/Yellow Bird