Singer-songwriter Stef Mariani has the talent to captivate an audience with her enchanting prowess.
She radiates inspiration and encouragement, reflected in a free-spirited mentality and genuine smile, even when giggling over cocktails in Waikiki.
She casually orders another cocktail while we playfully fight over the last poke taco, talking story mainly about the inspiration behind her upcoming album “Highway of Love.”
The album is scheduled to be released on Wednesday; she’ll mark the occasion with two acoustic concerts at Blue Note Hawaii. This year’s Hoku award-winning rock musician, Sean Cleland, opens.
“My inspiration behind ‘Highway of Love’ is my mother,” Mariani explained. “She’s very ’70s folk. I think that comes through in my music.”
The dark-haired, independent-minded Mariani, who grew up in Northern California, fills an uncommon void in the music industry with a distinctive sound, crossing genres such as folk, pop, Americana and acoustic rock.
“There’s also a little bit of an island vibe with elements of ukulele and Hawaiian steel guitar through my folk music,” she notes. “Hawaiian music is folk music, too, except a little bit of a different style.”
Her calm demeanor is complemented by her bold lyrics and hypnotizing vocals — at times, her performances can be incandescent, taking listeners on a journey and reminding them that they’re not alone.
“What I’ve found is that it’s comforting for people to not feel like they’re alone,” Mariani said. “I think it’s easy to walk around and act like everything is great and perfect, but it’s not all the time. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it feels good, and sometimes it doesn’t. But all my music I write in hope.
“I truly believe that everything is going to be OK. There are certain principles that you apply that are going to lead to that. So there’s always that, which are my thoughts about life.”
AS THE daughter of Carolyn Haley-Murray, a singer- songwriter who was active in the California folk-music scene, Mariani said family is her biggest musical influence. She also credits storytelling musicians such as Kate Wolf, Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills & Nash.
“My mother is this bigger-than-life personality,” she said. “Blonde hair, blue eyes, taller than me. I actually fell into her shadow. I wasn’t going to compete with her for the limelight, so my brothers became artists, and they had no problem doing it — maybe it’s because I’m her daughter?
“It took me a little longer to come around” to performing, she said.
“I started when I was a young adult, playing guitar and writing later. So I tend to be a little more introspective, less of a big entertainer and more of a writer. I think maybe I was trying to stand apart.”
A voting member of The Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), Mariani became heavily involved in the music industry within the last decade. That has given her a platform to share her music on a national and global level.
“I am a voting member of The Recording Academy, which runs the Grammy Awards,” she explained. “I have been doing that since 2013. I attend the Grammys every year — which is really cool, because I get to share my music with producers and other voting members. So that’s how my music has gotten out of Hawaii.
“It’s very inspirational for me,” Mariani said. “What’s been really educational is I get to review all the entries into the Grammys every year, so I kind of get to understand what’s happening out there.”
Mariani won the 2018 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for alternative album of the year for her album, “Stay Gold,” performing the title track as part of a medley with fellow finalists Pat Simmons Jr. and Sandy Essman during the show, broadcast statewide on KFVE-TV and live-streamed around the globe.
In “Stay Gold,” Mariani sings to a friend who needs comforting, “Please keep that sweet shine inside you warm and free, and if you stay gold, I will be by your side.” The uplifting lyrics struck a chord with listeners.
“Highway of Love” continues to inspire and reassure. It also pays tribute to Haley- Murray, who died in 2017 at age 64.
“People are familiar with the message of ‘Stay Gold,’ but ‘Highway of Love’ is actually a song written by my mother before she passed away,” Mariani noted. “So half of my album is my mother’s writing, and half is me. ‘Highway of Love’ is co-written between us.”
Like Mariani, HaleyMurray was a dreamer.
“My mother dreamed of world peace,” Mariani said. “It didn’t happen in her lifetime, and she never released the song. So on the album, the title track is my version of ‘Highway of Love’ — and the last track is her version.
“Her version begins: ‘The Highway of Love is where we’ll share our dreams, so everyone has enough.’
“My version directs attention to the fact that aloha is the answer,” Mariani said. “So it’s the concept of aloha and the spirit of aloha and all the concepts that surround it. I truly believe that that is how world peace can be achieved.”
“Highway of Love,” the title track for Mariani’s new album is now out — see the video on Youtube. Upon its Wednesday release, Mariani’s album will be available on all streaming platforms. For links and more information, go to stefmariani.com.
“HIGHWAY OF LOVE” ALBUM RELEASE PARTY
With Stef Mariani
>> Where: Blue Note Hawaii
>> When: 6:30 and 9 p.m. Wednesday
>> Cost: $25-$35
>> Info: 777-4890, bluenotehawaii.com