Leo Addeo
Hawaii In Hi-Fi






It is quite hard to hold back a healthy bit of sarcasm when reviewing Hawaiian music as processed by the marketing geniuses sitting in LA, looking forward to Hawaii becoming the final and most exotic state of the USA and then trying to cash in on the ensuing craze of exoticism. And sarcasm you will find in this review alright, but this apoplectic trade wind notwithstanding, every album of that timeframe (1958–1960) deserves a curious attention to detail regardless, for even though all the Aloha Oe and Blue Hawaii interpretations are indeed tiresome, it is the gems in the middle section, the many interstices and cracks as well as the different instrumentation and arrangement that can make Hawaiian music in general and Hapa Haole in particular so valuable to the erudite Exotica expert.


Enter Leo Addeo (1914–1979), in-house arranger for RCA and its various subsidiaries and his album Hawaii In Hi-Fi, released in 1959 on the very same label, not to be mixed up with the Hawaiian Hula Boys' Hi-Fi In Hawaii (1958). When the longing for Hawaii and touristic indexing are at their peak, the bosses hush-hush him into the studio in order to fulfill the hungry crowd’s yearning for polymers made in paradise. Ten songs make it to the album, almost all of them gold standards and essential material… unless, of course, in those cases where other foreign molecules sneak in, both in the shape of a song and instrument-wise. While Hi-Fi in Hawaii is an orchestral affair led by a ukulele and a steel guitar, interesting surfaces and patterns do occasionally arise. Is this of value in view to a gargantuan wave of like-minded cash-in opportunities? Before the sarcasm comes back again, let’s dive into the ten tracks, and quickly so!


Right in the opener – Leo Robin’s and Ralüh Rainger’s Blue Hawaii – Leo Addeo brings two remarkable assets into play and fools the aficionado of Hapa Haole: he first feigns mystical Far Eastern epithelia before he moves into a short riff of Queen Liliuokalani’s Aloha Oe, which isn’t due on side A yet! The actual Blue Hawaii, then, is the expected mélange of ukulele-driven panoramas with softened brass layers and a bokeh of distant aural vibes. Bill Cogswell’s, Johnny Noble’s and Tommy Harrison’s My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua meanwhile revs up the orchestral temper with dissipative triangles, uplifting hi-hat-driven rhythms, flute punctilios and warmhearted, non-tacky brass layers before Victor Jacobi’s and William Le Baron’s On Miami Shore offers a sunset-colored mélange of intimate tryst trumpets and lilting ultramafic steel guitar chords, making it the most soothing artifact of side A.


Drifting And Dreaming by the songwriting quartet of Egbert Van Alstyne, Erwin Schmidt, Haven Gillespie and Loyal Curtis, however, sees Leo Addeo wind up the tempo, making this potential mirage an uplifting swinging trip. In the wake of this excitement, Johnny Noble’s and Sonny Cunha’s Hula Blues is the laid-back endpoint, featuring an auroral amount of strings for the first time, led by the steel guitar and unsurprisingly backed by the ukulele.


Side B doesn’t alter the formula in the slightest, featuring the same titration process as the previous side, managing to merge the two principal orchestral forces – strings and horns – with the essential Hawaiian pairing – steel guitar and ukulele – in order to augment the feeling of the islands in the way only Hollywood can. I Get The Blues When It Rains by Harry Stoddard and Marcy Klauber kicks off this side with a pulsatile ukulele aorta alright, moves on to scatter muted trumpets and pointillistic xylophone vesicles on its way before the trumpets become slightly more incisive for a strange Saturday night atmosphere in a formerly sunlit afternoon gridlock. Harry OwensSweet Leilani is the antidote to the previous surfactant, oozing out mucoid strings and liquedous steel guitar prowess, whereas the less often considered Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula by E. Ray Goetz, John Young and Pete Wendling morphs the album into a kitsch-driven carnival-laden farce with overly saccharine gimcrack and scrimshaw.


The penultimate Aloha Oe offers the expected drowsy debonair doldrum, with Harold Weeks’s and Oliver Wallace’s Hindustan serving as the album’s angular momentum where the gravitational redshift takes place and Hawaii is left in favor of an antibody that features the complexion, but not necessarily the hastily created Western tradition of Hawaii, aptly – and accidentally – foreshadowing Addeo’s Great Standards With A Hawaiian Touch (1963).


Make no mistake: Leo Addeo’s Hawaii In Hi-Fi has anything new or extraordinary to add to the influx of Hawaii-themed albums that swept over the exciting crowd of ‘58/’59 when the affirmative annexation of Hawaii was first anticipated, then celebrated, finally implemented. The arranger only has so many textural and song-related choices to vivify the presented material, with the two rules of thumb being generously applied time and again: the ukulele and steel guitar have to be featured each and every minute to make the listener painfully aware of the paradisiac destination, and the roster of compositions must be made of modern Hawaiian classics, or else the listener loses interest immediately and despises the record. A little bit of sarcasm doesn’t hurt the truth, but I have to admit that it isn’t even necessary for the description of Hawaii In Hi-Fi, as it also features less-considered Hawaiian helixes such as Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula and even moves on to caress macronutrients à la Hindustan which lean more toward the fake Middle Eastern superresonance than a destination based in Hawaii.


The uncountable flood of similar releases is Leo Addeo’s biggest problem, but this applies to every other performer and bandleader as well. Such being the case, Hawaii In Hi-Fi does somewhat enchant, if only for the tendency to feature both an orchestral allure and alloy more often than not, ranging from mallet instruments over woodwinds to rhythmic high-frequency devices. No timbale or bongo is ever beaten, but other than that, this artifact is overcharged as expected, connecting Hawaii with LA as it was common back then. Available on vinyl and digital incarnations. 


Exotica Review 429: Leo Addeo – Hawaii In Hi-Fi (1959). Originally published on Apr. 25, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.