Talk about Maui magic. Here's Gail Swanson entertaining residents and visitors for years playing at our island's clubs and restaurants, and when it comes time to make a new CD, a whole bunch of famous buddies offer to pitch in to express their appreciation for her artistry and friendship. A follow-up to her Na Hoku Award-winning album, "Living in a Movie," "Simple Truth" features such friends as Willie Nelson, Pat Simmons, Michael McDonald, John Cruz, acclaimed bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson and Doobie Brothers' guitarist John McFee.
"It's just amazing, I'm still blown away that they all helped me so much," says Gail. "They're such good friends who wanted to help, and it's totally flattering that they're willing to be part of it. When Pat said he would produce some of the tracks, the whole caliber of the album stepped up. I wouldn't have even begun the whole project without Pat's help. I'm so grateful."
For years Gail has been crafting meaningful, commercially appealing songs worthy of national attention. With "Simple Truth" she might finally gain the wider recognition she deserves.
TANNER WATT photo
album cover art by RON DAHLQUIST
Photo provided by the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Charismatic young pianist Alpin Hong brings his classical equivalent of Beatlemania to Castle Theater Sunday.
A memorable collection of original songs with a couple of wonderful covers, the new CD began with a collaboration with Pat's wife, Cris Sommer Simmons. The powerful emotional resonance of the resulting song, "The One that Got Away," inspired Pat to offer his production skills, and moved country legend Willie Nelson to sing it with Gail as a duet.
"It was one of those songs that wrote itself," she reports. "We had written a little bit with Pat, but never a song from start to finish. We wanted to write a song about either someone who got away from us or someone who thinks we got away, looking at it from both sides. It's touched a nerve, it's had a real cool effect on people who have listened to it."
After Gail dropped off a copy of the song at the Nelson home, she was amazed when Willie suggested they sing it as a duet. Contributing his distinctive, weathered vocals adds depth and appeal way beyond our state.
Gail Swanson celebrates her new CD release at Mulligan's on the Blue Feb. 5. Dinner at 6 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Show only - $30; dinner and show - $49. As the show is provisionally sold out, call 874-1131 for the waiting list.
"What really blew me away is he said, 'that song is a masterpiece.' I almost fell over. He said, 'I think we should do that song as a duet, and I think you should make a whole CD, and put the other duet on there we did before, 'Half a Heart.' I'll help you get it out to the world, and we'll try to make you a few bucks.' He's amazing, such a great friend."
Willie was so impressed he wants to include the song on a forthcoming album of duets with female artists. "He's coming out with an album of duets he's done with women and he said he wants me on there," she reports. "My goal was always to write a song and have someone big record it, I never thought I'd be on a big album."
So there's Willie singing and playing on "The One that Got Away," and Pat playing acoustic and electric guitar on a couple of tracks (plus producing three songs), and both bassist "Hutch" Hutchinson and John McFee playing dobro on the catchy, opening "Matter to You." And then we hear the extraordinary, soulful voice of part-time Maui resident Michael McDonald singing and playing ukulele on a cover of the old Skeeter Davis song "End of the World."
"I met Michael and his wife through Pat and Cris years ago and we were in the studio, and I had told him I wanted to do a stripped-down ukulele song," she explains. "We talked about different songs and thought about Peter Gabriel's 'In Your Eyes,' and we were goofing around and everyone started singing 'End of the World.' About a month later I get a call from Mike and he says he recorded a version of 'End of the World.' He sent it to me and it's just him singing and playing ukulele and it's amazing, stop-your-heart good. I'm like wow, you should put this on an album, or in a movie. The next thing you know he calls me up and says, 'I think we should do it as a duet.' I'm like, let me pull over because I'm driving and I'm going to wreck my car. I said, I don't think you know how cool this is for me. It came out so sweet, and he's a great ukulele player."
For the other great cover on the album, Gail called upon the talents of one of Hawaii's most soulful artists, John Cruz, recording an inspiring duet with him on "Miss You," one of the best songs from his "One of These Days" album.
"I heard him play it at the Kauai Music Festival years ago and I cried, it's so pretty," she recalls. "I asked him if he would mind if I recorded it, and he said he'd be honored, and he was so gracious about singing and playing guitar on it. That song really resonates with people."
Among the other compositions on the CD, Gail includes the haunting "Eggshells," about domestic violence (it's not a personal story by the way), and the heartfelt prayer "Un Richiammo a Madre Terra" (A Prayer for Mother Earth), sung in Italian, co-composed Chelsea Hill, with a string arrangement by Nashville-based musician Jonathan Yudkin.
"I'm absolutely obsessed with Italy, and have been taking Italian lessons with Chelsea Hill," she says. "I wanted to write an Italian song, something that was universal and mother earth came to mind."
Maui musicians contributing to the project include drummer Paul Marchetti, guitarist Tom Conway, bassist Jerry Byers, and Steve Sargenti playing harmonica, with Dave Russell of Steely Dan fame engineering.
With the album out Gail is now focusing on promotion and hoping that maybe some of her songs might get picked up by some known artists. "I'm currently getting Maui airplay and also some Mainland airplay including "Willie's Place" on Sirius Radio," she notes. "Having Willie and Pat and Mike and John on there is really opening doors."
Gail will host a CD release party on Feb. 5 at Mulligans, with a number of friends joining her including Pat Simmons, John Cruz and James "Hutch" Hutchinson. Later in the month she will play a dinner show at Stella Blues on Valentines Day, and in April she opens for Hapa in Southern California.
"We'll play the whole album, calling people up for different songs," she says. "I'll do a few by myself. I asked Pat to pick some songs to do, and I asked John if we can do some of his tunes like 'Shine On.' "
First amazing audiences playing piano with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra at the age of 10, Alpin Hong has continued to win acclaim for his combination of stunning technique, emotional range, and rare humor that brings audiences young and old to their feet.
"Hong evoked a kind of Beatlemania when he came on stage," praised a Santa Barbara News Press review. "Hong has a clear opportunity to do for the classical piano what Yo-Yo Ma did for the cello: make it hip," noted the Idaho Statesman. And the Mobile Press-Register raved: "Hong's fingers danced across the keyboard and he handled the difficult passages with the aplomb of a laid-back virtuoso in total control."
Rooted in an extensive classical training and a background in skateboarding, snowboarding, martial arts and video games, Alpin earned a master's degree from The Juilliard School, and won the 1989 Stravinsky Piano Competition. In July 2005, Gramophone magazine proclaimed his self-titled CD featuring works of Scarlatti, Brahms, Debussy and Stravinsky: "A debut that enhances this young pianist's reputation," praising his "strong finger-work and keen ear for voice-leading."
Innovative with his programming, Hong adapted the theme from the Nintendo game "Super Mario Brothers," performing it at his Carnegie Hall debut.
* Alpin Hong performs at 5 p.m. Sunday in the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $12, $25, and $32 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Want to open for Bon Jovi in Honolulu? When the famous rockers play the Blaisdell Arena on Feb. 11 and 12, they will share the stage with an up-and-coming Hawaiian band. The event marks the first time since 1987 that Bon Jovi has performed at the arena.
The "Opening Act Contest," is open to all bands in Hawaii. Each band must submit a bio describing the group and its music, along with a CD containing one song no longer than three minutes, and contact information (name, address, phone number and e-mail) to:Tom Moffatt Productions, 1232 Waimanu St., Penthouse, Honolulu 96814. The deadline for receiving submissions is Monday.
From the pool of entries, 20 semifinalists will be selected to send in a video (via YouTube link) for review by a "blue ribbon panel" of local celebrity judges. The top five finalists will be chosen from the 20 semifinalists, and will have a clip of their videos featured on KHON-TV's "Wake Up 2Day" morning show during the week of Feb. 1. On Feb. 8, the top five band finalists will be featured live in-studio as part of KHON-TV's "Wake Up 2Day" show, where the two winners will be announced.A clip of the two winning bands' videos will be shared on the air, and both bands will be interviewed.
Jon Bon Jovi is among the artists singing on the recently released, contemporary gospel album "Oh Happy Day." Other musicians on the hip CD include Michael McDonald, Al Green, Joss Stone and Angelique Kidjo.