Andy Cummings,
Andy Cummings & His Hawaiian Serenaders
(Cord International/Hana Ola, 2004)

This retrospective brings together the finest recordings of one of Hawaii's notable traditional bands, fronted by guitarist Andy Cummings (1913-1995). Called the "Wandering Troubadour," Cummings, whose best-known composition is "Waikiki" (included here), was a household name on the islands for years, a radio and live performer as well as -- so this CD attests -- a recording artist.

He was not a "country" singer as that phrase (coined in the 1950s) is defined on the mainland, but he was a Hawaiian equivalent. His repertoire alternated between, and sometimes fused, indigenous and pop styles, which he fashioned into a seamless whole. Singing in a clear, smooth falsetto, he fronted a string band that early on counted in its ranks the destined-to-be-legendary Charles "Gabby" Pahinui (1921-1980), the most famous of the island's many extraordinary folk musicians.

The band's clean, swooping harmonies create little sonic universes of their own. As with the best Hawaiian music, the sounds are intoxicatingly romantic and intensely emotional, evoking erotic desire and love of landscape as if they were one and the same. In some ways, oddly, Cummings and his band seem -- broadly speaking, of course -- like a Hawaiian Sons of the Pioneers.

Most of the songs are sung in the native language, which is musical even when merely spoken. Perhaps the least of the songs here are those done in English, where the lyrics may strike the ear as both corny and clunky. One thinks that maybe the conquerors' language -- Hawaii was annexed to the United States, against the native people's will, in a land grab engineered by mainland business interests in 1898 -- cannot capture the deep and subtle sentiments of the original speech. Still, the melodies, as always, are arresting. Mainland country artists used to have a taste for Hawaiian music, none more so than the late Hank Snow, who could have done satisfyingly by the Cummings original "Coconut Island" (not to be confused with the much more recent tongue-in-cheek Junior Brown song of the same name).

Cord International, based in Ventura, Calif., is to be commended for its commitment to making Hawaii's musical traditions available to us mainlanders. Its releases are always attractively packaged, well-annotated and tastefully produced -- a class act all the way.

by Jerome Clark
8 October 2005

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