Reviews of Living in Hawaii Style

LIHS cover at 96 dpi


buy Living in Hawaii Syle


Review by Gerald Van Waes, radio producer and webmaster for radio show “PVHF”(Psyche Van Het Folk), Radio Centraal, Antwerp, Belgium
November 2005

Alicia started to live and breathe the essences of the island of Hawaii with its own special ‘heart’ energy. Like she expressed the hippie life book and album, this album expresses original and historic Hawaiian songs, accompanied by a slack key guitar with the help of Lei’ohu Ryder, singer and spiritualist with roots in Hawaiian culture, Sam Ahia, vocalist and jazz guitarist and Rick Asher Keefer, with some ukulele and percussion and vocals. Different from the previous album that seemed to have been an expression of immediate life energy, here a few song experiences have a kind of nostalgic souljazz in them even as if something is lost but still remembered. Elsewhere I feel sadness as if being an ode to the original Hawaiian joyful soul, while the historical songs are the immediate reference, while guitar instrumentals like “Sassy / Manuela Boy / Livin’ On Easy” are performed with a blues feeling. Other tracks, like the titletrack have all the luck and sunshine of Hawaii most brightly in them.

Review by Chris Roth
Editor, Talking Leaves Magazine
Spring, 2002

Our friend Alicia Bay Laurel (author and illustrator of the 1971 bestselling book
Living On The Earth) has put together an album of original and historic
Hawai’ian songs, sung with slack key guitar. After more than twenty-five years
living in Hawai’i, Alicia has obviously absorbed much of the spirit of her adopted
home—a spirit she conveys with great respect and also an effervescent joy. Most
of this is lovely music about what’s good in life on an island where native culture
and nature are still respected and honored by such “adopted natives” as Alicia.
Just as important, several songs point to the threats and damage to Hawai’i’s
people and land done by less-respectful outsiders, and a call, gently and
beautifully, for a return to balance and sovereignty.

Review by Stanton Swihart
September 23, 2001

It took Alicia Bay Laurel nearly half of a lifetime and years of concerted study
in a variety of styles before completing her debut album, but, oh, was it worth
the wait. A gorgeous amalgam of John Fahey-style fingerpicking, modal passages,
and lovingly sacred sentiments, Music from Living on the Earth was a sparkling
stream of music pure from the heart. It took but mere months for Laurel to back
up those sentiments with a second album that is every bit as compelling and
beautifully realized, although it is considerably different in both tone and
purpose. Living in Hawai’i Style is instead a collection of Hawaiian songs – some traditional, some native and, indeed, some from the pen of Laurel herself,
a longtime resident of the 50th state. Although a few have (most notably jazz
guitarist George Benson), ha’oles (or “gringos”) have not traditionally been
accepted with ease into the wider Hawaiian musical community. But Laurel proves
herself acutely in-tuned to the nuances, subtleties, and details of traditional
island styles, and the gorgeous open-key melodies or her original tunes are
tailor-made to Hawaii’s deep legacy of slack-key guitar. Without debating the
notion of authenticity, it can be said, at the very least, that Living is a
supremely humble and giving album, both towards the listener and towards the
Hawaiian musical history that it upholds and extends. That it goes well beyond
is the album’s most endearing grace. Far from playing shallow and dilettantish,
Living is, in fact, a paradisiacal love letter to Hawaii’s musical lore and to
the place the artist calls home, and it could not honor the tradition any more
than it does. Laurel studied Hawaiian musical culture for more than two decades
before even attempting to put her learning on tape (although some of the
original songs date to the mid 1970s), and the album benefits greatly from that
level of sensitivity and deference, as it incorporates nearly every style
endemic to the islands, from ancient chant and drinking songs to a birthday
tune, wedding songs, wonderfully breezy hulas, environmental anthems and songs
of welcome. With ample help from the widely respected Hawaiian jazz-guitar great
Sam Ahia and ravishing vocal support from spiritualist, composer, and educator
Lei’ohu Ryder, Living in Hawai’i Style is every bit the blissful oasis that
Hawaii often seems itself.

Review on by Pam Hanna
November 21, 2001

O Hawai’i!

In her first CD, Alicia Bay Laurel wrote and performed all of the songs, and it was a wonderful musical tour de force. On “Living in Hawaii Style,” other performers, writers and musicians make an appearance to excellent advantage. Alicia’s liner notes are a virtual musical primer on Hawaii – its musical history, genres, culture, geography, flora and fauna, as well as some magical personal history on how she came to know these people and places and enter into their music and their lives.

Traditional Hawaiian songs are included here (Nanakuli, from the 1890’s) as well as steel and nylon string guitars in standard and open tunings (known as Ki ho’alu or slack key) and “hapa ha’ole” (meaning half-foreign, one of a genre of swing tunes with tropical lyrics) as in “Moonlight and Shadows” with the smooth-voiced Sam Ahia.

Koa ukeleles, an ipu (gourd drum), pu’ili (bamboo rattles), pu (large conch shell used as a wind instrument), ti leaf rattles, slack key, steel and nylon string guitars, and ki ho’alu (open-tuned guitar, Hawai’ian style) are heard. Several songs, such as “Kawailehua’a’alakahonua” and “Holua, Kapalaoa and Paliku,” are sung in Hawaiian. The second of these is introduced with an original chant in the ancient style created and sung by Lei’ohu Ryder. The liner notes define Hawaiian words such as “Waikaloa” – “fresh water that is endless,” “A’a” a sharp, jagged lava and “Laupaho’eho’e” a smooth, ropy lava.”

One of my favorites is written and performed by Alicia alone (harmonizing with herself), “Ukulele Hula” – a lilting sing-along kind of song that embodies the feeling and spirit of Hawai’i. Has the feel of a years-old traditional song. “In Paradise, everybody is a lover.” Balmy, swaying breezy, rolling, it’s a “breezy afternoon and a sunset on the ocean.”

But the song that tugs most at the heart, for me, is “Kanikau, O Hawaii!”, written by Ginni Clemmons and sung by Lei’ohu Ryder and Alicia. “Kanikau” means “a mournful cry.”

“Oh Hawai’i, you’ve lost your innocence/ How can we get it back?/ Have we claimed you? Have we shamed you?/Have we spoiled the prize we’ve won?/ By taking you against your will,/Like all greedy lovers do./ Oh Hawai’i… we’re sorry/ Those who care are crying tears of shame./ ….Teach us the ways of nature,/ So that peace can end this war. Oh Hawai’i.”/
Lilting, haunting and lovely, the melody opens the heart to Hawai’i as she is, as she was.

This CD is pure pleasure. Just listen!

Review on Aloha Plenty Hawaii
by Doug and Sandy McMaster
September 28, 2001

“Any woman who has a great deal to offer the world is in trouble.” ~ Hazel Scott

In 1970, she wrote Living On Earth which hit the bestseller
list in 1971. She published 8 more books during the 70’s
and moved to Maui. Last year she released a CD entitled
“Music From Living On the Earth” including 16 songs she had
written at the time of the first publication.
Living on Maui and visiting the other islands, Alicia was
influenced by the musical stylings of Hawaii. She learned
traditional and contemporary songs as well as writing her
own. Spring of 2001 took her to the Big Island and into
the recording studio once again to create “Living in Hawaii
Style”. On this recording she’s joined by the Hawaiian
jazz guitarist Sam Ahia, spiritualist Lei’ohu Ryder, Rick
Asher Keefer. The recording includes several of her
originals as well as contemporary and jazz favorites.
It includes slack and standard guitar, ukulele, chants, ipu
(gourd), ukulele, and more.

It’s good to hear more women playing slack key… hence the
quote I included in this issue. Having spent time in Hana
on Maui we understand Alicia’s sentiments. A magical place
with very special people. Her folk/pop renditions are nice
and catchy. Alicia will be touring in support of her CD so
watch for her coming your way… she has some great stories
from her time on Maui. We met Alicia and her friend Joe at
sunset by the bay.* Hope to see you there again soon Alicia!
And hope life is good for you on Big Island.

*Doug and Sandy are often found performing slack key guitar and ukulele duets at sunset at one of the beachparks in Hanalei, Kaua’i. Their music is beautiful! Their CDs are available at their web site (link above), which is a wonderful resource on ki hoalu (slack key guitar). ~ABL

Review in Newsgroups:
A new CD by Alicia Bay Laurel… some slack key, some jazz, some vintage
Hawaiian… beautiful songs honoring her teacher and places on Maui that
touched her heart. And a happy birthday, Hawaiian style, song too!


From Judy Barrett, former music industry professional in Honolulu, August 1, 2002:

I asked Led [slack key legend Ledward Ka’apana] to keep an eye out for you at the Hilo festival [the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival]. “She one haole girl? Kinda hippie?” Yeah, that sounds about right, I said. Turned out he’d already met you at one of his workshops in Hilo a few months ago. Said you played some of your compositions for him. I asked, “So?” He said you were pretty good. Now, I know that sounds pretty dang low key, but, from him, it truly is high praise. Enjoy it!

Sounds like you had a great time. I love that little festival!


September 4, 2001

Mahalo Alicia,

We just reviewed your charming release “Living In Hawai’i Style”. It is
refreshing to know there are still some artists performing and recording in
the islands who appreciate our magnificent musical roots.

You original compositions offer a compelling story of what is happening to
beloved Hawai’i. Usually, most artists only record their complaints, not
solutions. You are the difference. Even though you are not native to the
islands, you have the feel of the land and people.

When I was involved with the original “Hawai’i Calls” radio program, and
the newer version, I always looked forward the most to the more traditional
and hapa-haole numbers.

This is a most enjoyable musical experience.

Aloha nui loa,
J Hal Hodgson
Executive Producer
Ports of Paradise


September 12, 2001

Aloha Alicia~

I am delighted to have shared in your CD project. The songs are clearly from your heart. You are a gift to our islands. The makana who has been called to service the vision of aloha and maluhia for the world.

Congratulations on such a fine job. May you continue to heal the people in your work.

Malama pono~

Lei’ohu Ryder


“What a nice recording. You did a very good job.”

January 21, 2002

Auntie Nona Beamer
Mother of Keola and Kapono Beamer
And Hawaiian Music Legend in Her Own Right


“I’ve been listening to your Hawaiian album.  I love it.  Every single song!  I hardly ever listen to other people’s music because my brain is just so full of my own.  Right now I’m listening to Track 3.  I love your voice; it’s so perfect, so lovely and sensual!”

June 28, 2011

Gabrielle Silva
Jazz vocalist and visual artist
Creator of the Ragananda doll, books and videos


I Absolutely LOVED YOUR Hawaiian CD! I especially loved your stories, like that of Auntie Alice. For those of us who had lived there and loved Paradise yet saw firsthand the impact on the old Hawaiian culture, those stories mean a lot.

I think we both saw Hawaii thru the same set of eyes while we were living there – I like the way you succinctly articulated it both here and thru the songs and stories on the CD – It will always hold a very special place in my heart, but what happened to the lovely gentle native people there was very similar to other Native Americans — yet you captured their Joy and Aloha spirit with your sweet Music, Alicia!!!!

Aloha Nui Nui,


March 10, 2012

Linda Joy Lewis
Earth Angel Kitchen

My Hawaiian Hanukkah Song

Festival of Lights chart.jpg
Guitar chart handlettered by Alicia Bay Laurel in 2002.

You can listen to Festival of Light here.

In 2009, Sable Cantus, the choir director at Temple Beth David, in Westminster (Orange County), California, found Festival of Light online while searching for a song his choir could sing for a Hawaiian-themed Hanukkah party at the temple, and contacted me via my website for permission to use it. I not only assented, but volunteered to attend and participate, since I was living in Los Angeles at the time, about an hour’s drive away on the 405 freeway. Sable made sheet music of his choral arrangement of the song, which I have as a pdf document. Please let me know if you would like a copy and I’ll email it to you.

Temple Beth David made the feminist in me sing. The rabbi and the cantorial soloist are women – gorgeous, intelligent, talented women. Here’s a photo of me at the party, sporting a blue and white mu’umu’u (my best approximation of a Hawaiian Hanukkah gown), next to Rabbi Nancy Myers. In the center are two people whose names I don’t know, and on the right is Cantorial Soloist Nancy Linder.

12-11-09-CA-Westminster-Temple Beth David-Hawaiian Hanukkah Party-ABL, Rabbi Nancy Myers, Cantor Nancy Linder

And, hooray, below is a REVIEW of Festival of Light, by Jeanne Cooper, published in SF Gate, the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, on December 24, 2009.

“I’ve only just discovered a beautiful slack-key Hanukkah song, “Festival of Light,” by Alicia Bay Laurel, which appears on the 2001 “Old Hawaiian Christmas” compilation CD (SeaWest label), now out of print; you can hear by clicking on the player below, or following the link above. Anyone who’s a fan of ki ho’alu may enjoy it no matter what the season.”

My own assessment of the song:

Festival of Light is sweet and sincere rather than humorous, a Hawaiian slack-key-guitar-inspired folk song combining Hawaiian elements (aloha, ocean) with Hannukah elements (the eight nights surrounding the new moon preceeding the winter solstice, family gathering, candles of menorah). I performed two vocal tracks and two guitar tracks (one Hawaiian slack key, one in standard tuning).

Story Behind the Song:

Rick Asher Keefer, a producer-recording engineer whose Hoku award winning Hawaiian CDs include those by reknowned Hawaiian artists Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Brother Noland, and Tony Conjugacion, created Old Hawaiian Christmas, a compilation holiday CD, in 2001, and asked me to write and perform (probably the first ever) Hawaiian Hannukah song. The CD (and this song) continues to get airplay in Hawaii every December to this day. Rick engineered and helped me produce my first two CDs (Music from Living on the Earth and Living in Hawaii Style) at his studio, Seawest, near Pahoa, Hawaii, in 2000 and 2001.  He and his wife Donna Keefer both perished from cancer, he in December 2013, and she in April 2015.  They are sorely missed by a large musical community, not only in Hawaii, but in Japan, in Seattle (where Rick produced albums by the all-woman band, Heart), and elsewhere.

Lyrics to Festival of Light

Verse One
Festival of light on a winter night
Gathering of friends and family
Flickering candles in a row
Shining for a miracle in history

All of this on eight starry moonless nights
All of this surrounded by the great blue sea
All in the spirit of aloha
Smiling in the heart of Hawaii

Verse Two
Now is the season for sharing our light
Singing and dancing so joyously
Thanking each other for kindliness
Flowing through our lives so plenteously

All of this on eight starry moonless nights
All of this surrounded by the great blue sea
All in the spirit of aloha
Smiling in the heart of Hawaii

(c) 2001 Alicia Bay Laurel, Bay Tree Music (ASCAP)


Dead Heads Land

Look for this sign above the door and you know you’re at Yukotopia.

Tonight I visited Yukotopia Dead Heads Land Night Club where its fifteenth anniversary party is in full swing, featuring Sandy Rothman, a masterful multi-instrumental player from Berkeley who had played at the grand opening and the tenth anniversary festivities as well. Sandy played in several bands with Jerry Garcia, and sings with the same kind of friendly, slightly sardonic, laid-back delivery for which the Dead are known. The three other players live in Tokyo. Lots of joy emanated from the stage during their sets and the audience loved them, too.

Meet Roku, the sound engineer, Yuko, the club owner, and Masahiko, the official club photographer.

After Sandy and the Anniversary Band played their acoustic sets, the Warlocks played a couple of electric Grateful Dead sets and the audience danced.

Everyone in the room at least swayed in their seats to the band, but most were full on dancing.

Yuko’s got all kinds of Grateful Dead items for sale—books, DVDs, CDs, Jerry Garcia dolls, tie-dye t-shirts, and posters.

Dead head tie-dye on the ceiling.

Poster for this week’s events.

Yuko and I enjoyed our dinner at a sushi diner just down the street from the club, with this cool, super slow conveyer belt that circled three sushi chefs who constantly replenished it with dishes of sushi. Each dish cost $1. Not everything in Tokyo is expensive, it turns out.

My Romance

Lila Downs at the Barbican, London, April 2006
Photographer: Damian Rafferty

My favorite vocalists of late all sing in romance languages. They are already legends, but if you haven’t heard them yet, get thee to iTunes and check them out. You don’t need to know Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese, although, if you do, it will no doubt enhance your thrall.

From Brazil, dig Rosa Passos (pronounced Hosa Passos), a soprano whose hip, creative phrasing enhances the cool “beach samba” style of Brazilian pop standards. When I first heard her, I realized I’m more accustomed to hearing this music performed in an alto range, and Rosa’s high, vibrato-less voice gives even 1960’s Jobim chestnuts a fresh youthfulness.

From Peru, Susana Baca gives voice to an African-American community in a country without Caribbean frontage. Rich with complex rhythms and responsive chorus, Susana’s music takes you right to the emotional and spiritual center of her mysterious and earthy world.

From Mexico and Minnesota, Lila Downs combines a degree in opera singing, a bloodline of the majestic women of the ithmus of Tehuantepec, and a cool New Jersey saxophonist boyfriend to create traditional Mexican music with soaring vocals, hip arrangements, and sometimes political rants.

From Mexico, Montreal, and lots of road time in between, Lhasa de Sela grew up traveling with singing parents on a school bus, and began gigging at age 13. In Montreal she partnered with Yves Desrosiers, a monster guitarist and brilliant producer, to create two emotionally urgent yet surreal CDs.

From Asti, near the French border of Italy, comes a dapper, older attorney turned singer/songwriter named Paolo Conte. With a gruff voice, fabulous jazz piano chops and eerily retro band arrangements, Conte creates the most gorgeous, profound and hilarious poetry imaginable. Be sure, when you purchase one of his CDs, to get one with English translations of the lyrics in the liner notes.

Klezmer in Paradise

The Blums at their 40th anniversary party. They met in college, honeymooned in the Peace Corps, and are living happily ever after.

When I met Gloria and Barry Blum in the 70’s, they already were performing with a klezmer (Jewish party music) band they had founded called the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of America and California, Otherwise Known as the Traveling Jewish Wedding. When I heard them play at Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, they blew off the roof.

A year before the Blum’s daughter, Katie, left the nest, eventually to get her degree in social work, the Blums moved to Kailua-Kona, on the island of Hawaii, leaving their beloved band behind. Kona Community Hospital was thrilled to have Barry as their only orthopedic surgeon, and the Blums were thrilled to trade their Mill Valley digs for a spacious, airy home on a hillside with a huge view of the ocean. Soon they began looking for band members.

The Kona Traveling Jewish Wedding Band onstage.

This time their band didn’t just play lots of wedding gigs. Gloria and Barry assumed leadership of Congregation Kona Beth Shalom, and they began performing Jewish wedding ceremonies in addition to the music. The band recorded a wonderful CD called Shaloha Oy, the title track being a minor key, up-tempo send-up of Queen Liliuokalani’s timeless Aloha ‘Oe. On the cover is a blurb from me: “Gloria Blum is the Janis Joplin of klezmer.”

Gloria singing with the band.

Kona Beth Shalom became a kick ass congregation, producing Karen Breier’s Shaloha cookbook that garnered an article in the New York Times, and adopting a torah (Old Testament scroll in Hebrew) that had belonged to a Czech congregation massacred during the Holocaust. The governor of Hawaii attended Kona Beth Shalom’s recent celebration of the old torah’s expert restoration.

My illustration for the backs of Gloria’s Feeling Good Cards. This image is copyrighted by Gloria Blum.

Gloria’s gift to humankind, a method of teaching appropriate behavior, self-esteem and social skills to mentally disabled teenagers, inspired her to create a resource curriculum guide, Feeling Good About Yourself, and also a communicaton card game, Feeling Good Cards, enjoyable by any group of people. Last year I drew a card back picture exactly to Gloria’s specifications, and re-designed the graphics for the box. That’s Barry playing his bass balalaika, and Gloria beside him, singing with her arms upraised in joy.

In the Heart of Waimea

Cattle ranching history in a mural by Marcia Ray in the food court of the Parker Ranch Center, Waimea, Hawaii

When people think of Hawaii, they don’t often think of cowboys, but, in some parts of Hawaii, cattle ranching is still a way of life. Mind you, these are cowboys who proudly hula and make feather bands for their hats. These are the people who created slack key guitar.

Pasture and ocean seen from the Old Mamalahoa Highway, from Ahualoa to Waimea

The cattle pastures of Hawaii overlook the ocean and enjoy a perpetually balmy climate. I figure this is where you reincarnate if you were a very good cow last time.

Clouds creep over the crest of Kohala Mountain toward the pastures.

Hawaiian cowboys are called “paniolos,” a Hawaiian-ized word originally meaning Espanolo, or people who speak Spanish. The first cattle were given to Hawaiian chiefs by visiting tall ships, and they roamed the islands destroying everything in their path, until the Hawaiians imported people with cattle controlling skills to put an end to that. The first cowboys came from Argentina, speaking Spanish, and bringing guitars, Spanish open tunings, roping and riding, and the Brazilian tipo, a tiny four-stringed instrument the Hawaiians adopted as the ukulele (jumping flea).

Braddah Smitty, whose beautiful heart resonates in his voice.

Last night I spent three happy hours in Tante’s Bar and Grill in Waimea, Hawaii, the heart of the vast Parker Ranch, listening to the great Braddah Smitty and his band. Braddah Smitty’s very Hawaiian family includes his uncle Gabby Pahinui, the father of modern slack key guitar, and Gabby’s famous guitarist sons Cyril and Bla Pahinui. Braddah Smitty resembles his uncle, and sounds just like him when he sings Gabby’s hits Hi’ilawe and Moonlight Lady, but his talent is unique. His rich baritone soars like an opera star’s, but without the pomp. Braddah Smitty is all about having fun. The whole room has no choice but to join him.

An member of the audience performs a masculine hula to Smitty’s music. Several others, including my friend Lynn, got up and danced when they heard songs to which they knew the choreography. In hula, there is only one correct choreography to each song, so that dancers from disparate locations should all be able to move in unison.

He is also all about heart. He graciously invites in whoever wants to play along. Among those sitting in on this occasion was the ancient and legendary Uncle Martin Purdy, son of the famous cowboy Ikua Purdy, depicted in an enormous bronze riding horseback and roping a cow, that stands in the parking lot outside Tante’s Bar and Grill. His wife, Auntie Doris Purdy, played ukulele and performed a stately hula from her chair. Her daughter played guitar, and a couple of young local guys sat in on guitar and ukulele and sang.

The whole line-up of Smitty’s band and friends picking and singing at Tante’s by the great stone fireplace.

I’d kanikapila’d (jammed) with Braddah Smitty a few years ago at the birthday party of Edie Bikle, best-selling children’s book author and the owner of Taro Patch, a scrumptuous gift store in nearby Honoka’a, and he remembered that I played slack key, so he invited me to play some songs during the break between the sets.

I perform some slack key tunes for the folks at Tante’s.

Edie and her boyfriend Tony, both present and clearly having a wonderful time, egged me on, and so did Lynn Nakkim, novelist, comedienne, former Green Party candidate, Waimea resident with her own horse ranch and my friend for over thirty years, whose idea it was to come to Tante’s in the first place. So, I played two slack key pieces over one hundred years old, and sang and played two original slack key songs, Auntie Clara and Living in Hawaii Style, all of which I recorded in 2001 on a CD of the same name. Edie carries it in her store.

Afterward, I joined the line-up of friends playing along with the band.

At the end of the show, the audience rose as one and joined hands in a circle, something I’ve never seen happen in a bar. We all sang Hawaii Aloha, the unofficial national anthem, swaying and harmonizing together. Then that trickster Braddah Smitty sang the Hokey Pokey, and we all got really silly dancing that. After that, people were hugging and kissing each other Good Night and Aloha, and heading out into the mist.

Shamisen and Sushi

Noriko Britton sings with her shamisen trio.

I met Noriko at Hoshi HanaÂ’s art opening last Sunday. She told me she played shamisen, and I asked when and where I could come hear her play. When I found out it would be the following Friday at Zeque (pronounced zeck-you) Sushi and Grill in the South Lake Mall in Pasadena, I called my friends and happily reserved a table for twelve. We all had a wonderful time.

Michiko, Takako, Hideko and Noriko.

The ensemble was, as follows:

In the lavender kimono, Michiko Yoshino (professional name, Bando Hiro Michiya), a traditional Japanese dancer, who sang some songs with the shamisen trio at the beginning of the set.

In the peach kimono, Takako Osumi (Kineya Yasuyo), shamisen player.

In the yellow kimono, Hideko Kamei (Kineya Kichi Kazu), shamisen player.

In the blue kimono, Noriko Britton (Kineya Roku Kensho), shamisen player.

An instrumental piece with fierce and complex rhythms.

Sometimes the songs were instrumental only and sometimes the women sang while they played. These were not songs for dance performance, but rather just for listening, Noriko explained to us later. Hoshi Hana told me that Noriko lived across the street from her parents since before her birth, and she had encouraged Hoshi Hana to learn music. “I was lousy at the koto,” she grinned. Hoshi Hana’s destiny clearly lay in the visual arts and in a world more bohemian than traditional, although she is beautifully bi-lingual.

ZequeÂ’s appetizer specialty is a sort of giant sushi called a Mount Fuji, with three layers of rice and your choice of any three sushi toppings, two as fillings and one on top. One of these arrived with slices of avocado ornamenting the sides.

Just as we were all leaving, I saw the trio heading for the parking lot with their instruments and ran after them to photograph them one more time. So sweetly did they turn and smile.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Drummer Joe Lastie

July 8, 2006. The legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans played a set at Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, and I was in the front row, laughing, dancing, clapping my hands and taking pictures.

Trombonist Frank Demond, clarinetist Ralph Johnson, with trumpeter John Brunious singing, and alto saxophonist Darrel Adams

Hundreds of Hollywood hipsters jammed the aisles of the record store, loving the music.

Each player solo’d beautifully, the shout choruses at the end of each song thrilled us, and three of the players sang as only old jazz musicians can sing.

Bass player Walter Payton sings

During the last song of the set, (“Saints,” of course) the store staff distributed Mardi Gras beads, horns and bells, and the four horn players lead us in a second line, dancing around the store.

Clarinetist Ralph Johnson

After the set, the store held a charity auction to raise money for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, which was originally founded by the Preservation Hall Jazz Society.

Carl Le Blanc plays banjo

I bought one of the band’s CDs. I asked trumpet player/vocalist John Brunious, which was their most recent recording. He said, “This is what you want (pointing to Shake That Thing), but THIS is what you need.” THIS turned out to be Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a two-CD set of a remastered 1964 recording with an earlier line-up of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, featuring a 66 year old woman pianist/vocalist named Sweet Emma Barrett. Sweet, indeed!

Alicia having fun at Amoeba Music

I gave John a copy of What Living’s All About, and hoped he’d enjoy Floozy Tune, my trad jazz original that opens the CD. He was kind enough to write down the names of the players so I could share them with you on this post.

Front entrance. The store occupies an entire city block.

Amoeba Music’s wild success as an independent record store stems from the party atmosphere, the great concerts, the vast, yet well organized, array of new CDs and DVDs as well as cheap used CDs and videos, their purchasing department, which buys lots of used items, as well as new, but relatively unknown, indie CDs like mine, the amazing decor, and the knowledgable staff. They have only three stores (Berkeley, Haight Ashbury, and Hollywood), all in locations with very large creative communities. They are not shy about their politics, either. On the outside of the Hollywood store hangs a huge yellow banner reading, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Amoeba Music’s mural on Ivar Street.

My First Two CDs are on iTunes!

Woo hoo! My first two CDs are now fully up on iTunes, meaning that now you can buy just one song if you like, for 99 cents—or the whole CD, minus the packaging, for $9.99. Apple iTunes lets you listen to a minute of each song before you buy.

Music From Living on the Earth page on iTunes

Living in Hawaii Style page on iTunes

However at CD Baby you get TWO minutes of each song—at least on the Music from Living on the Earth page. They have promised they’d get around to posting samples of every song on Living in Hawaii Style eventually. When I first posted the two CDs in 2001, CD Baby was only offering samples of four songs per CD. Now they offer samples of ALL the songs, as you will see on their page for What Living’s All About.  On CD Baby, what you buy is the physical CD, with all its glorious artwork and liner notes.

Reviews of What Living's All About


TOP 12 DIY PICKS by Mare Wakefield, Indie Music Editor

What Living’s All About—a title that’s appropriate for a woman who has lived her life with such gusto. A Bohemian artist, Alicia Bay Laurel lived on a houseboat off Sausalito and a commune in Sonoma before spending 25 years on Maui. In addition to her music, she’s worked as a cook, collage artist, yoga instructor, wedding planner, underwater photographer and she’s the author of a New York Times bestseller, the whimsical Living on the Earth, first published in 1971.

The rich tapestry of her life translates to her music. In the Billie Holiday-esque “Floozy Tune,” Laurel plays the role of the Sunday School teacher turned barfly. In “America the Blues” she dishes out scathing political commentary to the tune of “America the Beautiful” (“America, America, greed sheds disgrace on thee / You don’t need nukes, you don’t need slaves, you don’t need gasoline”). She has fun with the smart “Aquarian Age Liberated Woman Blues” (“Seaweed for breakfast is good for you”) and the gospel-imbued “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water.” Laurel’s jazzy Earth-mother sound will seduce and inspire.

Review by John Stevenson of Ejazz News in London, June 2006

Dear Alicia,

Just a quick note from London. I have reviewed your last CD at It is excellent. As I wrote in the review, by far one of the best for 2006.

I get close to 200 CDs a week sent to me, but yours stood out because of its transparently high level of musicianship and sincerity – qualities which are very rarely found combined these days.

Kind Regards,

John Stevenson

Alicia Bay Laurel: What Living’s All About, Jazz Blues & Other Moist Situations (IWS)

With a provocative title like this one, Ms. Laurel will certainly catch the attention of any reviewer! This is most certainly one of the most audacious, heartfelt and honest discs I’ve put in my CD player for the year. Alicia (who sounds like the artistic love child of Joan Baez and Tom Waits) brings a folk-singer’s sensibility to bear on jazz and pulls no punches: On America The Blues, she declaims: America, the beautiful/you’re thorny as a rose:/Radiation, global warming/Poisoned food from GMOs./ She also sings a delightful version of Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy. The accompaniment from guitarist Nels Cline, bass player John B. Williams and pianist Rick Olson is divine.

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Tom Hyslop
Blues Bites: Reviews in Brief

Alicia Bay Laurel conveys life’s sudden shifts and jarring juxtapositions on What Living’s All About (Indigo With Stars 003). Sandwiched between the opener, “Floozy Tune,” and “Aquarian Age Liberated Woman Blues,” two formally classic blues that could have come from Ma Rainey if not for the namechecks (belly dancing, astral projection, The I. Ching, bee pollen candy and natty dread), comes “America the Blues,” with strident references to economic inequality, environmental rapine, corporate greed, and political corruption. Laurel moves from girlish singing on the Twenties-style songs to this doomy incantation, the arrangement taking full advantage of the jaw-dropping talent of avant-guitarist Nels Cline (best known as Wilco’s secret weapon). With cuts such as “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water” (a gospel-drenched number with oddly matched lyrics), and the Fever tribute of the title track, Living will strike some as too California in its outlook. But lovely touches abound, such as the stately, quietly anthemic “Love, Understanding and Peace,” and Doug Webb’s beautiful alto work on “Zero Gravity.”


FEMINIST REVIEW, Friday, June 1, 2007
Alicia Bay Laurel – What Living’s All About

All would-be writers who have studied how to write know the rule: "show me don’t tell me." Visual artists find this advice easy to do and musicians are, perhaps, the same way. When the creative instrument does not rely solely on words, showing is not too difficult.

Alicia Bay Laurel wrote Living on the Earth, a cult classic and the first paperback on the New York Times Bestseller List (spring 1971), which has sold over 350,000 copies. She has also written five other books. Laurel is a talented, trained musician. She grew up playing classical piano, switched to guitar in her teens and learned open tunings from legendary guitarist John Fahey, a family member. On this latest album, What Living’s All About, she works with some of the best musicians in the field, including avant garde guitar hero Nels Cline.

Alicia Bay Laurel tries to show and tell by weaving feelings, melody and an occasional diatribe word. She celebrates the Earth (nature) and embraces her sensuality. She also loudly laments the destruction of the environment, as in her song “America the Blues,” where the listing of our environmental sins drags a bit. At the same time, the song is strangely effective. The entwining hypnotic music ended with a smashing guitar rift, followed by a spine tingling sound of whale songs and a Native American Chant. This is an excellent protest song. Alicia Bay Laurel and Al Gore should be friends.

“Zero Gravity” is a haunting song about a city at night, reminiscent of Ground Zero in New York City where the Twin Towers used to be. Laurel talks about sex in this CD and does it with class, sometimes with gentle humor, like “Floozy Tune.” However, you won’t know what she’s talking about unless you listen closely. This blend of jazz, blues and gospel is a powerful feminist statement. It’s fantastic!

Review by Patricia Ethelwyn Lang


"Floozy Tune" Wins Song Contest
7/9/2007 4:38:10 PM
“Floozy Tune”
Status: Selected
Congratulations, you have been selected as a Top 20 Finalist in the Jazz Category of the 11th Annual Unisong International Song contest. Results are at

This year featured the highest overall quality of songs, lyrics, and writers ever submitted by far, with the most diverse and varied entries from a multitude of countries representing every continent on Earth except Antarctica (and songwriting penguins out there).

The judging therefore was extremely competitive and to be singled out anywhere in the top 15% of all songs submitted was no easy feat.


Review of What Living’s All About by psychedelic folk radio DJ, Gerald Van Waes. His show, Psyche Van Het Folk, is on Radio Centraal, Antwerp, Belgium.

Like one of my favourite heartfelt singer-songwriter singers (Heather McLeod with ‘Funny Thing’, 1997), also Alicia went to more towards (slightly standard) jazz territories, but as a former hippie, it is clear this is not done as a compromise to please/tease a public. Her interpretations (-most songs are self penned-) are with great feelings, and a certain light happiness beyond each other idea or emotion. She describes the style mix well on the cover as "jazz, blues and other moist situations". With additionally a a bit of New Orleans influence on "Floozy Tune", and a bit of gospel on "Doctor Sun and Nurse Water" (about what the environment of Hawaii did to her), she wrote inspired something between jazz and jazz-blues and something else soulful. I like the idea on "America the blues" saying "America, don’t wave that flag to con us with your jive…".."we’re all family on this planet".. (Just imagine how America is built upon so many nationalities and bought talents from everywhere, unfortunately mostly still chosen from what are seen as the trustworthy countries and areas (so practically still excluding preferably the French, Spanish, and several Arab-speaking countries and native Indians for economic concurrence, racist, nowadays partly religious, and a few other reasons).. Potentionally I realize America still has all opportunities and a certain openness to experiment for those who succeed to start to participate in the system. This track, like a few tunes elsewhere has some, for me, rather amusing freaky electric avant-garde guitar by Nels Cline (Wilco,..). Alicia, for having experienced a certain earthbound process, matured, she still has the happiest aspects of the hippie; this sum must having benefited the soul and music of the singer, who on her recent photograph on the back cover still looks 25 or so, so I guess the message of this lies somewhere as a benefit hidden in the music. Rather brilliant as an interpretation I think is "Nature Boy" (originally by Nat King Cole, but also covered by Grace Slick), in an emotionally calm contrapoint-driven moody jazz style, with the help of John B. Williams on upright bass and Enzo Tedesco on other instruments. A really fine and enjoyable album.

Review by legendary guitarist Nels Cline on his website:

Alicia is a self-proclaimed “hippie chick” who I met through (drummer) Joe Gallivan. She had a hit book back in the 60s called [stay tuned for title – forgot it], which she says “was in practically every hippie commune outhouse in the west” (no doubt right next to “Be Here Now”!). This is, I believe, self-released, and is quite an odd but strangely entertaining, original, and disarming recording. It has a some amazing L.A.-based session/jazz players like (saxophonist) Doug Webb, who reaches beyond his Coltrane-esque tenor to turn in some beautiful post-Desmond alto, brilliant drummer Kendall Kay, and bassist John B. Williams, whom many may remember as the Fender player on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson for many years. There is a choir on here! The songs are sort of 1920s-30s era swing, acoustic swing blues, and… Well anyway, when someone like Alicia asks me to do tons of Hendrix-inspired shrieking and psych looping (“America The Blues”) or fuzzed out adversarial commentary (“It’s Not Fair”), I figure that when the disc comes out that the stuff will, as it usually is, be buried or cut out altogether. I was amazed when I heard this that Alicia REALLY WANTED these sounds and that THEY ARE REALLY LOUD! I don’t know what people who know my music will think of this, but there is something so wry and self-deprecatingly amusing about Alicia’s hippie anthems, protest songs, and tales of failed romance that I find myself grinning. Hmmmm….Oh yes, I also play slide, lap steel, and acoustic guitar on this. I’m on 4 or 5 tracks.


Review by Platinum-selling singer/songwriter Joe Dolce

I think this is a very creative record with a lot of wonderful ideas and performances and some pretty extraordinary playing, and endearing vocals all over the place. I like it a lot!! I liked all the songs much better on the second listen. A keeper. Good work.

The album is eclectic, diverse musical styles. Therefore, I can relate to it! What holds it altogether is Alicia’s musical ‘personae’ – the complex character she is creating, through her voice and ideas. As you get to know this character more and more, as the songs and ideas progress, you trust her more and it allows you to enter more easily into whatever type of musical style is coming next. (Also this trust is a reason to want to go back and listen again.) Also the IDEAS are clear. The lead vocals are strong with a lot of presence. The musicians are all brilliant and the soloing is tasteful and creative – no cliches or stumbling around musically anywhere to be found.

Re: "Nature Boy." I believe that if you can take the listener to a unique Hilltop, and give them a view that they will never forget, even ONCE in a recording or performance, that is enough. One brilliant moment builds a bridge of trust between you and them that will allow them to be more open to whatever you do from then on, even if they don’t relate or understand it. (You may never be able to take them to that High Point again but it doesn’t matter – it’s like great sex or great playing- you may not be able to LIVE with that person, but you will NEVER forget that encounter.) This track took me to that Hill. I feel different now about the whole recording.

Re: "I Could Write a Book." This track is the track where I first gasped: genius! What an amazing idea. A track like this makes me have to listen to the whole CD over again to see if I missed anything the first time around on those opening tracks. A totally inspir
ed idea that works. No one else has ever done something like this with a standard. Perfect. I played this one for Lin. She liked it a lot, too. (She didn’t think her publisher would like it though! ha ha!)
Joe Dolce
Melbourne, Australia