Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians – “Voice of the Trade Winds”

Search the world over for enchanting and romantic music and you will find none to compare with that of the Hawaiian Islands. For here is the music of leisure, happy vacation times, and fond “Alohas”…music that is the memory of the blue Pacific.

Distinguished far and above the many who play and sing of this island paradise is the name of Harry Owens, leader of the famous Royal Hawaiians. An accomplished musician, conductor and composer of many famous Hawaiian songs, Owens is world-renowned for his interpretation of this lovely and ever-popular musical art.

This is the sentimental song of the tropics…the dreamy nod of the palms…the soft sound of gently-breaking waves on golden sands. This is the Voice of the Trade Winds – Hawaii!

21958656551_e4c83df750_bWho wouldn’t want to listen to that? Such is the description of Harry Owens’s album Voice of the Trade Winds, a dreamy, lush record of Hawaiian orchestral music.

Several of the tracks are well-known standards (“My Little Grass Shack,” “Blue Hawaii”) with five Owens originals, including the title track and “Sweet Leilani.”

This album first came on my radar from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort in Walt Disney World – it can be seen hanging on the wall above the bar.

Interestingly, Voice of the Trade Winds is not part of the instrumental area loop for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, and cannot be heard anywhere on Disney property. However (and this is the Disney Parks music junkie/completionist in me), its placement in Trader Sam’s makes it an implicit part of the soundscape, if not an explicitly heard one.

Its lush orchestrations are a bit of a foil to the dark, rhythmic exotica of the Trader Sam’s area loop, but more cleanly fits in as part of Sam’s collection of his travels ’round the world. Harry Owens himself was the bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, one of the premiere Hawaiian resorts. It would not be a stretch that a typical Hawaiian tourist, either staying at the hotel or even visiting, would hear the sounds of the Royal Hawaiian orchestra or pick up one of Owens’s records. Voice of the Trade Winds, or any Harry Owens album, could be the keepsake of any Hawaiian visitor during that time.

Whatever the source – a Hawaiian visitor of yesteryear, or a resident of the mainland yearning to experience the Islands, the record entered my collection just this past weekend at the Tiki Caliente 8 (as in, the 8th year) in Palm Springs, CA. This several-day tiki affair features art, collectibles, food, and of course drinks, celebrating Hawaiian & Polynesian culture, both authentic and kitschy. Voice was one of three albums I bought, and the instant I saw it I recognized it from its perch at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

This album is not available on CD, and only some of the songs are available as MP3. As Hawaiian music goes, it’s unique for its blend of better-known orchestral stylings with a big band feel. This does sound like a hotel jazz band, in the best way; there is an energetic and economical quality to this album that the sleepier records just can’t match. Mix yourself a Royal Mai Tai, sit back, and let yourself be transported by the Voice of the Trade Winds.

 

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Le Notti Bianche (1957)

Le Notti Bianche, or White Nights, is a dark yet passionate film about love, loneliness, and sacrifice.

A young man and woman, Mario and Natalia, meet by chance one night as Mario is strolling the streets of their small village. The artificiality of the sets and casual nature of their acquaintance misleads the viewer into believing this will be a typical girl-meets-boy romance; wrong.

As Natalia describes herself and her life, her obsessive tendencies and year worth of pining over another love are quickly revealed. The obsession goes both ways, though, as Mario repeatedly turns down other attractive, eligible women in favor of Natalia, someone he convinces himself he has a future with.

The story takes some very surprising, sometimes horrifying, turns and the ending is far from what I’d expected. In addition to the engaging narrative, though, Le Notte Bianche is very well made. It’s interesting to see how different aspects of the characters come out through their actions.

For instance, we learn that Mario used to be in the military and now moves around without forming genuine human connection. Scenes later, several military men and their girls enter a cafe and immediately start slow dancing; it takes a while for Mario to ask Natalia to dance, reinforcing his tentative efforts to pursue romance.

The story itself is truly compelling, but little touches like that are what make this film so fascinating to watch. Repeat viewings will surely heighten the visceral, passionate experience that is Le Notte Bianche.

The Young Don’t Cry (1957)

The Young Don’t Cry is a surprisingly ahead-of-its-time coming of age film, with a message less of faith in humanity and more of trusting one’s own instincts.

To be honest, I watched this specifically because it stars Sal Mineo, one of my favorite 1950s teen idols. He gives a fantastic performance as a teenaged orphan at an all-boys’ school who befriends a chain gang convict. From the very beginning of the film, we see how his character suppresses himself, forcing himself to speak in a more neutral tone of voice, but when challenged and confronted, he breaks out a sneer and a Brooklyn accent, revealing character attributes beyond those outlined in the script.

The entire movie has this otherworldly weight to it; the audience is asked to suspend its disbelief in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the chain gang that works surprisingly close to the boys’ school, and the middle-aged woman who lives alone in a cabin and offers comfort to the boys who feel lost or forgotten. Logically, much of the film borders on ridiculous, but the sincerity of the performances and the weight of the emotions make us believe what is transpiring.

One of the film’s highlights is a successful alumnus of the school, who comes back to mentor the boys. He turns out to be a greedy asshole, but, as Holden Caulfield might argue, these are the type of people we are supposed to idealize and strive to become. This figure is foiled with that of the prisoner, convicted with manslaughter after getting in a bar fight initiated by his wife being insulted. The moral ambiguity displayed in this Hayes code-era film is engaging and intriguing, particularly for its time.

Mineo’s character, Leslie, is consistently faced with difficult ethical choices and is caught in several crossroads throughout the short duration of this film. While there are no easy solutions, the mother figure in the film reminds him “Bad men make excuses. The good ones don’t have to.” He learns that his intuition and his inherent moral compass will take him further than fulfilling a destiny society decided for him.