Like many of the musicians I have come to admire over the years, I discovered Pamela Polland via the extensive branches of the Rock Family Tree. I came across Jackson Browne’s music as a 15 year old, and over the years since then have been connecting the dots of the sprawling West Coast music scene that mushroomed in the Sixties and Seventies. In my search for all things Jackson, I was soon led to – amongst others – Steve Noonan, Greg Copeland and finally Pamela Polland. Polland was an important part of the nascent folk rock scene, and provided inspiration for a number of up and coming singer-songwriters, not least a young Jackson Browne. She was the personal inspiration for at least one of Jackson’s early songs, the lovely “Shadow Dream Song”.
Pamela Polland has essentially been a musician her whole life. She performed in her teens on her own and then as a duo with an equally young Ry Cooder. From there she formed the folk group “The Gentle Soul” with Rick Stanley. In 1970 she was part of the tour to end all tours, backing Joe Cocker on his epic and groundbreaking “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”. Since then Polland has pursued a solo career as a performer and has also been a highly successful songwriter.
To be honest until recently I hadn’t listened to Pamela’s music for some time. Many of her albums were hard to find, though I did finally manage to hear her wonderful debut album when it was given a digital release a few years ago. It wasn’t until I discovered Pamela on Facebook a year or two ago that I realised that her music career is still very active. She is, in fact, going from strength to strength.
Pamela moved to the island of Maui in Hawaii a few years ago now, and has immersed herself in the culture, language and especially the music of the local people. As a result of this her music has taken a surprising but welcome turn, culminating in the release of her album Hawaiianized. Originally released in 2010 as an EP, it is now available as a fully-fledged 11 track album.
At this point I have to say that I am not familiar with Hawaiian music or musicians, other than Israel Kamakawiwi’ole’s beautiful arrangement of “Over the Rainbow”. I’m happy to say that any background knowledge of Hawaiian music is unnecessary when listening to this album, as Polland takes a similar approach to Iz, applying the distinct sound and feel of Hawaii and the Pacific to some time tested classics. Polland gives us her own take on the Arlen/Harburg standard, and more than does justice to it, adding to a fine legacy of outstanding performances of the song since Judy Garland first immortalised it back in 1939.
Polland has been careful to select songs that work using the Hawaiian setting, and as such there aren’t any weak points on the album. The production by John McFee (Doobie Bros.) is perfect for these arrangements, and his playing is brilliant as always, while never overshadowing Polland’s vocals.
Polland is in fine vocal form here, in fact her voice doesn’t seem to have diminished at all over time. Not only does she show off her superlative vocal technique, she also manages to seamlessly incorporate the Hawaiian language into most of the songs, to the point where it feels as if they belong to the song as much as the original English lyrics. Polland is ably backed throughout the album by singer Sharon Celani (Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac), and also plays a mean ukulele, an instrument that is relatively easy to learn but is harder to master.
Favourite tracks for me include Here Comes the Sun, Over the Rainbow and Who Knows Where the Time Goes (one of my favourite songs by the late great Sandy Denny). There is also a terrific Polland original included, “Ride the Waves”. The album’s standout track however is without a doubt Polland’s cover of the transcendent “Sailing”. I have never been much of a fan of Christopher Cross, but “Sailing” was the one song of his that I would always listen to when it played on the radio. Polland’s version is stunning – “Sailing” was seemingly made to be given the Hawaiianized treatment. I always felt that the original version came from a viewpoint close to shore, looking out to sea. Here Polland takes you with her, stretching out over the vast Pacific Ocean where the horizon has no end and life’s possibilities are limitless. The final, uplifting note is sublime, a wonderful surprise that carries us away instead of returning us as expected to our everyday reality.
Therein lies the strength of the album – Polland gives us a feel for her Hawaiian paradise and for 40 odd minutes we can share her world. After all, who really needs reality? I’d rather be Hawaiianized…
To hear more of these songs and to purchase this album go to:
Further information on Pamela Polland can be found on her website :
Pamela also has an active presence on Facebook, and is very generous with her time interacting with friends and fans alike.
Over the Rainbow as performed by Pamela Polland on Hawaiianized Pop Classics. The beautiful images are by Kenny Shackleford.