Review Summary: In This Life
Hawaiian music doesn’t exactly draw the largest following in the world. Hell, even finding any albums on p2p networks is almost impossible. People just don’t care what goes on in the Aloha State, except for maybe Hawaii Five-O. However, my impression of the global view of the genre changed, if only slightly, when I heard Bruddah Iz’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in a small New York bookstore. The moment I heard Bruddah’s soothing voice and congenial kani kapila style ukulele playing, I felt a warm, exclusive familiarity, similar to hearing that the newly elected president went to my high school… oh, maybe it’s just an Island thing. I immediately went to the counter and asked the nice haole lady at register, “Hey, do you know what you’re playing right now?” and she replied “Oh, of course. Bruddah Iz is one of my favorites!” She went on and told me about the first time she’d been to Hawaii and how she’d fallen in love with Bruddah’s unique voice when she’d heard it on the radio. To see that people got more out of the islands than the usual surfing, relaxation, and influential cop shows gave me a certain sense of pride. If people are listening to Bruddah Iz 5000 miles away in a tiny NYC bookstore, then I’m content in knowing that Hawaiian music isn’t only enjoyable to Hawaiians.
Alone In Iz World is a compilation album of arguably Bruddah Iz’s best songs that was released a few years after he passed away from complications caused by his weight problem. From the short passages at the beginning of “Starting All Over Again” and the “Bonus Track”, Bruddah shows a genuine optimism and carefree attitude towards death, explaining, “I believe all of this is temporary. This is just one shell, because we Hawaiian. We live in both worlds…if I go now, that’s alright. I going set the table for you guys, keep the stew hot cuz, hehe, we can not help it. It’s in our veins. It’s the koko that flows in our body. We can not help it.” Besides being a truly inspirational figure, Bruddah can jam. “Henehene Kou Aka” is an old classic in Hawaiian music and no version of the song is as well known as Bruddah’s. While his music might not have much to offer in terms of innovation or extraordinary instrumentation, Bruddah’s music is phenomenal for its soul and energy. This is not to say that he’s a slouch on the ukulele. On the contrary, Bruddah shows great finesse and personality with the instrument in most of the songs- particularly this one.
The album is filled with tracks that are either in Hawaiian, English, or both. The English singing songs include “Starting All Over Again”, “Over The Rainbow”, and “In This Life”. These tracks are exceptional for their cozy, protecting feeling and are probably the best examples of this side of Bruddah Iz. His version of “Over The Rainbow” was even sung by an American Idol contestant in the top 10. The only honest judge on that show, Simon Cowell, also admitted that Bruddah’s cover is the best, though the contestant did a shoddy job on it, himself.
While many of the songs are slower Hawaiian ballads, there are also some really uplifting jams like “Ulili E” and “Panini Puakea”. The lyrics for these tracks are in Hawaiian and, considering most people aren’t exactly fluent in the language, you won’t understand them anyway. This allows Bruddah’s flow and musicianship to take centerstage for most of the songs. If I haven’t made it clear how sweet and sincere his voice is so far, then I encourage you to listen to him sing in his native tongue.
Some would speculate that the lack of filler in this album makes for a less cohesive collection of superb stand-alone songs, and I would usually agree, but the album actually flows really well. This comes as a result of Bruddah’s variety in songwriting and arranging, yet consistency in mood and sound. There are playful, uptempo ukulele jams, synth tinged epics and slow Hawaiian ballads, but each song carries a similar congeniality and unmistakable Bruddah Izness to it. This ensures that one can sit, listen, and relax all the way through.
If you have never listened to Hawaiian music or anything by Bruddah Iz, then I suggest you give this a try, as it displays a lot of his best work and contains many classic Hawaiian songs by a great man and musician.