John Akapo – Paradise Blues
Mensch House Records
CD: 10 Songs, 34:00 Minutes
Styles: Traditional Acoustic Blues, Solo Album, Debut Album
What more perfect title for a genre album could there be than Paradise Blues, by Hawaiian debut artist John Akapo? For fans, the blues is paradise, and so much the better to play them in the midst of paradise. Aloha State locals have a saying: “hang loose.” It perfectly describes Akapo’s style: casual, good-natured, freeform and laid-back. He doesn’t cling to traditional rhythms or formulas, though his music possesses a classic sound. Akapo’s vocals are clear and slightly gravelly, a trucker’s pipes lubricated with a dash of Bacardi coconut rum. Featuring seven original tracks and three perennial cover favorites (“Ramblin’ on my Mind,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Big Road Blues”), John’s debut CD is as sweet and juicy as fresh pineapple.
Even though musical heritage runs deep within his family, John’s parents did their best to shield him and his brothers from the pitfalls of the rock-and-roll lifestyle, such as addiction. “[They] were firmly against the idea of me taking up the guitar,” he reveals in his promotional materials. “I would have to hide my interest in singing and especially playing. . .I looked to my brother’s friend for guitar lessons and dove into a wormhole of music that I have never climbed back out of.” In regards to his home state and the state of the genre within it, he says, “The blues fans that have seen me play appreciate the fact that I’m from Hawaii, yet I make them feel like they’re at home in the mainland. The blues is at home here in the Islands, and it’s nothing new.”
Not only does Akapo play great solo acoustic guitar, but the album features tasty harmonica and kinky percussion. On the CD, however, no other performers are listed or mentioned.
The three original songs below have the tangiest Island flavor and the tangiest blues as well.
Track 02: “Little Lani” – The female subject of this track has a name meaning “sky,” and she’s driving our narrator straight towards it in terms of insanity. “Hey, Little Lani, what you doing in my car? What you doing in my house? You give me the blues, baby, them old Samoan boy blues” (though he lives in Hawaii, his familial roots are Samoan). Akapo channels Eric Clapton at his most Unplugged.
Track 07: “Hindsight” (Missionary Blues) – This is a giant kick in the teeth to colonialism, pure and simple. Akapo warns native Hawaiians not to let European missionaries come: “Can you hear them calling? Don’t let them come ashore. What once was all yours will be all yours no more” – their homes, their food and water, even their language. Played with the bare bones of ukulele and somber vocals, “Hindsight” is a 20/20 denunciation of practices that used to be not only normal, but sanctioned by “civilized” society.
Track 08: “Lord Help Me” – Featuring wicked slide guitar and keen Piedmont style, number eight is a cry for aid when money’s scarce, the job’s a drag, and the bank is uncooperative. Human help may not be on the way, but divine intervention might be a surer remedy.
“I think the entire blues scene could use some of this Paradise Blues,” John Akapo states. Yours truly concurs!