Island Mele: Overlooked album by Hanale Bishop deserves discovery
Hanale Bishop writes and plays in a way that blends traditional American folk music with modern acoustic rock.
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Hanale Bishop (‘Aumakua)
The name of the artist, and the cover photo showing people working in what could be a taro lo‘i, suggests that Hanale Bishop’s new album “Cobblestone” is filled with Hawaiian music. It isn’t, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
Bishop writes and plays in a way that blends traditional American folk music with modern acoustic rock. He sings with a worn world-weariness in his voice that’s reminiscent of Neil Young in Young’s worn world-weary period. It’s a singing style that works well for Bishop as he shares 12 original stories of life, love and lessons learned, or, as he writes in his liner notes, “a gentle look back into deep consequences.”
An interesting assortment of guests — several of them Hoku Award-winners — share their talents with him on individual tracks. The list includes Stephen Inglis (guitar), Matt Sproat (guitar and backing vocals) and John Cruz (guitar, acoustic bass and backing vocals). Bill Griffith plays mandolin on two songs, and Elijah Oguma plays drums on five. Buck Giles sits in on a 1928-vintage tricone resonator guitar and a 1940s-vintage electric guitar.
Johnny Helm, Kelli Heath-Cruz and Erika Elona contribute their voices to the project. In short, there’s a lot of subtlely nuanced music going on here. Take, for example, the vocal harmonies on “Cobblestone,” the acoustic blues undercurrents on a song titled “Even Ground,” and the lyric optimism of “The River,” the song that concludes Bishop’s musical odyssey.
The initial impression may be of a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar. If so, the greater depth of the arrangements comes into focus with repeated listening.
None of the songs mention Hawaii — let alone taro farming — but the production credits hint at Bishop’s local links. Some of the songs were recorded in Chinatown, others were made “in an open shed made from salvaged and repurposed material in Waiahole on Homestead Poi Farm in the Fall of 2017, just around dusk and just before an evening rain.”
Bishop released “Cobblestone” without fanfare or promotion late last year and it was an “also ran” at this year’s Hoku Awards in May. That makes it better late than never to discover “Cobblestone” now. It’s an album Hawaii can be proud to claim for the excellence of its music and also as an example of the musical diversity that exists here.
And, yes, Bishop is in fact a taro farmer in Waiahole who provides poi and other produce to the Waiahole and Ko‘olaupoko communities in Windward Oahu.
Contact Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.