Category Archives: Music

Video: Hike to South Willow Lake

Here are some clips from our recent hike to South Willow Lake in Utah’s Stansbury Mountains.  The angelic voice issuing from my phone in one clip belongs to Miss Zee Avi.  If you must listen to music in the wilderness, it must be hers.


Stay tuned for a review of Jack Johnson’s latest album, To the Sea

I know, I know– it was released two weeks ago and after all my hype, I still haven’t reviewed Jack Johnson’s new album, To the Sea.  I typically wait a while after buying an album before reviewing it so that it has time to sink in, gel, grow on me, etc.  So fret not, Googlers!  I’ll post a review sometime next week.

Some albums come in with a bang and hook me at first listen.  Some come in with a whisper but grow to become favorites.  To the Sea came in with a whimper, and the jury’s still out.  I owe it to my man Jack to wait to review it until after an upcoming 14 hour road trip to the west coast.  If it’s going to sink in, I’m guessing it will happen on the open road.

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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music


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Jack Johnson’s ‘You and Your Heart’ is a rolling slice of heaven

I just bought Jack Johnson’s new single, “You and Your Heart”, and I wanted to post a few quick thoughts:

  • LOVE the upbeat rhythm guitar intro!  Jack’s writes some sweet song intros, and this one may just be one of his best.
  • Very radio-friendly.  Most of his singles are.  Deeper cuts are sure to come on the album, which drops on June 1.
  • I’m over-generalizing here, but Jack’s music can be roughly classified into three categories: Soundtrack/instrumental (his early stuff- think September Sessions or the Curious George soundtrack); Beach tunes (most everything prior to Sleep Through the Static); and the piano-driven ALO sound.  “You and Your Heart” fits squarely in this third category.

TANGENT: The third category merits some explaining- A very distinct change in Jack’s sound occurred when he added long-time pal and vocalist for ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), Zach Gill, to the band, and heavily incorporated Gill’s school-choral-room piano style into his subsequent work.

The transition is best evidenced in Jack’s 2005 album, In Between Dreams.  This album, in my opinion, was the perfect juxtaposition of all three of the categories I mentioned above (and it’s consequently my favorite album).

NESTED TANGENT: While I consider myself something of an early days purist (most of my favorite Jack Johnson tunes come from his early soundtracks), the addition of Gill was a welcomed and natural evolution, which added an amazing dimension to the band’s sound.  If you’ve never experienced ALO, I’d strongly recommend checking them out.

But back to the quick thoughts on the newly-released single…

  • I dig the dubbed self-harmony effect.  I’m sure there’s a more official term for that, but I don’t have time to Google.  This is something that has always worked for Jack, and it works great here.

BOTTOM LINE: “You and Your Heart” is a rich, rolling track.  If it’s representative of the rest of the album, To the Sea will be a gem.

Listen to the whole track here.  It’s available on iTunes now.  The album will be released on June 1.

See previous posts about Jack Johnson here.


Posted by on April 8, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music


Looking forward to some G. Love harp on Jack Johnson’s new album

A quick note on that upcoming Jack Johnson album— I was happy to see this tweet from long-time Jack Johnson pal G. Love yesterday:

Well, I gotta tell you- I just laid down some harp on 2 of Jack Johnsons new tunes and I’m saying -his new record is gonna be his best 1 yet

Nobody does harp like G. Love.  Check out one of my favorite videos of G. Love and Jack together:

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Posted by on February 18, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music


It’s about time: New Jack Johnson album due in June

It’s been 2 years and 6 days since I tore the shrink wrap off a brand new* Jack Johnson release and slid it into my car stereo for a first-time listen.

So as a Jack Johnson devotee from the J.O.A.T bootleg days, I’ve got one thing to say: It’s been a long 2 years and 6 days.

That’s why June 1 can’t come soon enough.  This from the Brushfire Records newsletter:

Jack and his band, Adam Topol, Merlo Podlewski, and Zach Gill, have been putting countless hours in at the Mango Tree Studio to record their 6th studio album. The album, currently untitled, is being recorded on 100% solar energy in Hawaii and will be released worldwide the week of June 1st on Johnson’s own Brushfire Records label. Stay tuned, we’ll have more news for you on the album front in March and a new single out in April.

Following the June 1st release of his new album, Johnson will embark on his first world tour since 2008, kicking off in Europe on June 16th. The tour will be a mix of headline shows London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam and festivals including Glastonbury (UK), and Roskilde (Denmark). Stay posted, the US Tour dates will be announced in March.


I just hope the new album will be more In Between Dreams and less Sleep Through the Static (his disappointing last release).  STtS was a clear departure from the melody-driven, uke-laced tracks on IBD and the brilliant “Sing-A-Longs” from the Curious George movie.  It’s a musician’s nature to mature and explore new areas, so I don’t expect a full return to the beach scene.  But let’s at least get some sand on the toes this time around, eh Jack?


* Yes, I know Jack’s live compilation, En Concert, was released back in October. I love live albums, but I have a hard time categorizing them as new albums.

Click here for past blogging on Jack Johnson, and if you’re pining for a night under the stars immersed in the Jack Johnson vibe, be sure to revisit my 2-part review of the Salt Lake City stop on his STtS tour.

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Posted by on February 11, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music


Some Christmas tune suggestions

I have a strict policy when it comes to Christmas music: none until the day after Thanksgiving.  Christmas music before Thanksgiving is, well, just wrong.

But come Black Friday, and my iPod, car stereo, and TV (the radio channels on satellite) play nothing but Christmas music.  For one month–one glorious month–our family loses itself in the sounds of the season.  Our playlist includes both modern and classic tunes.  We’re always looking to expand it, but that’s a discriminating affair.  Christmas songs are a dime a dozen.  Only the best tracks get airtime in the Mariner household.

So if you’re looking to enrich your own Christmas playlist, allow me to make a few recommendations (titles hyperlinked to Amazon and iTunes – I get no kickbacks):

Henry Mancini – A Merry Mancini Christmas
This may just by my favorite Christmas album.  Growing up, it was one of three vinyl Christmas records we had (the others were Christmas with the Chipmunks and Mickey’s Christmas Carol).  These songs epitomize vintage Christmas music. My favorite song is the instrumental “Carol For Another Christmas.”

Barry Manilow – Because It’s Christmas
I can’t stand Barry Manilow, but I love his Christmas album like crazy.  Favorite tracks are “A Christmas Song” and “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.”

Amy Grant – Home For Christmas

This one is Meadow’s all-time Favorite.  Amy Grant was born to record Christmas music.  Favorite tracks are “Joy to the World” and Breath of Heaven.”

Sara Evans – I’ll Be Home For Christmas – EP

Seems like this one’s exclusive to iTunes.  It’s a 4 track compilation of holiday songs released previously on compilation albums, plus a duet, “New Again,” with Brad Paisley.  Sara Evans’ voice is to die for.  Anything she sings is worth buying, and this EP doesn’t disappoint.


Here’s a list of noteworthy tracks.  If you’re like me and purchase lots of individual tracks from places like iTunes, I highly suggest you check out the following:

Patti Page – “Where Did the Snowman Go?”
Zee Avi – “No Christmas For Me”
Jon Schmidt – “Pachelbel Meets U2”
Chicago – “The Little Drummer Boy”

What are your recommendations?

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Posted by on December 15, 2009 in Holiday Related, Music, Zee Avi


Instant Classics: Mana Poly All-Stars and Riddim + Blues

“This is the fusion,” toasts the Mana Poly All-Stars’ Nela Otuafi on the catchy intro track from their sophomore album, Riddim + Blues

“A collaboration of two cultures- where the West Indies and the South Pacific bring island music to the forefront.”


Image courtesy

And a fine collaboration it is.  To describe MPA’s music as simply reggae, island, or R&B would do it a disservice.

“It’s fusion reggae,” MPA’s manager, Jillana AhLoe explained to me in the parking lot of Salt Lake City’s Club Vegas two weeks ago.  I had called Nela for a follow up to my first piece about him and, he invited me out to meet all the guys and Jillana.  They wouldn’t be playing until nearly midnight, so we walked outside for an impromptu interview.

Previously, my only exposure to Nela was his ground-breaking album, Return with Honour, with Pau Hana, a group he started in college.  After our first interview, he sent me copy of Riddim + Blues, confident I’d like it just as much.  I’m pleased to report that it is exactly as Nela described it—an “instant classic.”

For those of you who loved Pau Hana but may be new to MPA (and there are a few of you, judging by the hits I’ve been getting to my previous post and the search terms bringing you here), let me introduce MPA’s sound and style from the reference frame of Pau Hana.

Common to both groups are Nela’s lead vocals, his mid-song “chatting,” and a certain best-of-all-worlds sound.  Both groups also share reggae undertones.  But whereas Pau Hana was Jawaian (reggae plus Hawaiian), MPA is reggae plus R&B.  The depth and richness of Pau Hana has continued to MPA, but it’s more mature and refined.

It’s also more vocally diverse, thanks to the rest of the ensemble.  When Nela and pal Kalani Hafoka started MPA in 1999, they set out to recruit the best of the best—a cast of all-stars, if you will.

“Kalani loves R&B.  He’s a soul guy,” Nela said, pointing at each of his fellow band members standing with us.  “Tema’s an old school R&B guy.  Vaea’s a roots guy.  Ese’s a hip-hop guy.  James is a rock guy.  I’m a dancehall guy.  We all have our own styles that we bring to the table.”

The band’s name is a construct that describes exactly who they are.

“We wanted a name that was common in all Polynesian languages and ‘mana’ is that word,” Nela explained.  Mana means power or great spirit.  “The problem is that there is already a group out there called “Mana”, so to separate ourselves we added the ‘Poly All-Stars’ because we all came from different groups.”


While all of them were born in the U.S., each MPA member has an island heritage, and a few of them have been back to visit their homelands.  They credit their island roots with their knack for music.  Keyboardist/vocalist Setema Gali laid it out:

“Polynesians, when we go to church, we break out into three or four part harmonies.  We definitely have a gift for music.  Most Polynesians can pick up any instrument, can harmonize anything.  So the islands show through in our music.”

[I might mention here that music isn’t Setema’s only talent.  He was an all-conference defensive end for Brigham Young University and has a Super Bowl ring from his career with the New England Patriots.]

“We sing the melody, everybody picks their part—boom!” added Nela.  Those rich harmonies are no better showcased than on Riddim + Blues track “Guarantee,” a tune about solidifying love.

Listen to an impromptu parking lot version of “Guarantee” that I recorded at the interview.  The audio quality isn’t great but it’s good stuff.

In fact, whether it’s devotion (Good Love), the practical side of marriage (Give U Love), or romantic pining (One Step Behind), most tracks on Riddim + Blues are odes to love.  The sultry vocals of MPA’s only female MPA member, Luisa Hafoka, complement the male harmonies in fine fashion.

“Gunshots”, a story about the tragedy of two gang incidents, is another landmark track.  The song won the award for social action song of the year at the IMA’s.  The album itself won reggae album of the year at the Hawaiian Music Awards.  Their debut album, S. Pacifik Musik has won awards as well.

Overall, Riddim + Blues fuses smooth R&B vocals with prominent reggae rhythms.  The Polynesian connection to reggae music, Nela explained, is natural because of its universal vibe.  Nela has been adopting elements of reggae since Pau Hana, incorporating intro toasts and chat interludes.

Image courtesy Mana Poly All-Stars

Image courtesy Mana Poly All-Stars

Nela’s “chattin’” is what drew me to Pau Hana originally.  It’s like rap, but with partial melody.  It’s raw, yet highly structured.  Nela does it masterfully in pure island chant style.  Some MPA chats incorporate harmony from the others—like a song within a song.  I’m going to officially request that their next album include a track that consists entirely of chat.

In short, Riddim + Blues is a rock-solid record and an instant classic.  MPA’s unique fusion of island music and old school R&B is full of soul-catching beats and lush harmonies.  I’m not a genre guy.  I love good music.  And trust me, MPA is good music.  Will Riddim + Blues replace Return with Honour in my CD changer?  No, because I think by now RwH has seared itself onto my turntable.  But R+B has the next slot over– and it will probably stay there a good while, too.


The Mana Poly All-Stars are:  JAMES RUBI-lead guitar; TANIELA “NELA” OTUAFI-vocals, keyboards; KALANIANAOLE HAFOKA-vocals, guitar, bass; NA’A HAFOKA-rhythm guitar, vocals; SIOSIFA “ESE” TAIESE-drums, vocals; SETEMA GALI, JR.-keyboards, vocals; LUISA HAFOKA-vocals; VAEA TAUTEOLI-Bass.

Check out MPA on their website and on Myspace.  Buy Riddim + Blues here.