I like the blues. I don’t love the blues. There are contemporary blues artists whose music I do love, RoryBlock, Eric Bibb, and Crystal Shawanda among them, but I will never love the blues the way I love bluegrass, southern country soul, and much of the “singer-songwriterAmericana almost-country” set.
But, I do love the debut album from John Akapo.
Taumei “Big John” Akapois a resident of Hawaii, Maui-born I believe. His Samoan heritage echoes in his interpretation of classic blues sounds, an appealing breezy openness offering something just a little bit different. Paradise Blues is a 35-minute blues journey across well-traveled tradition with invigorating originality.
Three blues classics ground the album, including a lively opening slice of Robert Johnson, “Ramblin’ On MyMind.” One of the album’s centerpiece songs— “Hindsight (Missionary Blues)”—leaves no doubt about the impact colonization had on Akapo’s ancestors. “Little Lani,” and “Maui Drive” also place Akapo’s Island environs at the fore, incorporating regional moods, events, and locations over hard-driving blues beats.
Darkness permeates Muddy Waters'”I Can’t Be Satisfied,” with “Caramac Blues” (“Life is like a box full of Caramacs, we take all we want but we can’t put nothin’back”) offering more uplifting aspirations (“Be the light, be thechange you want to see.”) Growling through “Big Road Blues,” one realizes the breadth of Akapo’s vocal range.
“Fighting for Love”offers a plaintive take on an imperfect relationship (“We had a good run, it wasn’t all bad times,”) but one senses a situation of ‘too little, too late;’ here and elsewhere, Akapo’s voice reveals an elegant, soulful maturity often missing in blues presentations. Perhaps “Don’t Believe Her” offers up this dude’s story when he finally recognizes his reality.
Largely acoustic, Paradise Blues offers, as Akapo aptly describes it, “a tree rooted in traditional blues, sprinkled with Pacific salt water.” Good stuff.