If there was ever a more aptly named recording than this one, I cannot think of it. H20, the new disk from Paul Hawkins, is everything its namesake is. It's fluid, relentless, refreshing, clear and you can drink it. OK, so the last one is a joke, but this album is something you cannot do without. It is the elixir of life. Nine tracks all composed by Hawkins, except for two in which he had help from special guest Gerry Grosz, demonstrate his talents as a composer and steelpan player.
"Livin Right," the opening number, has a real South American feel to it, swaying gently back and forth, it is played with a relaxed , easy going manner that carries you along on wave after wave of sound. "Never Stop Building de Pan" reminded me a little of Paul Simon's classic album, Graceland, especially in the opening bars where the drum and steelpan rhythms make you envision a small army of players on the steps of an old mission church drumming out a beat in the mid day sun. This album does an amazing job in painting very vivid musical images, each unique from the next but each necessary to complete the total picture.
The third track wins the prize for the most unusual name for a song: "Dream of the Western Guitar Repairman." I have no idea what it means but I do somehow think it is a great story. The song, itself, begins with a strong bass line played by Marc van Wageningen and then it is layered over by Hawkins enthusiastic steelpan playing. Each compliment and augment the other beautifully.
"Beautiful Soul" has the extra added element of vocalist Jessica Vautor, whose voice brings a romantic, exotic quality to the number, that gives it a rich texture and adds just the right touch of the Caribbean. "Kimba" and "Divertido" are two funky spirited numbers that highlight the steelpan and give give Hawkins a chance to show the range of his talents, both as a performer and composer. "Divertido" also showcases the flute playing of John Calloway, who is more than a match for the percussion section. The flute solos fly around at a dizzying pace giving the song a whirlwind feeling that leaves you breathless.
One of my personal favorite songs on the album also has the distinction of an unusual title, and that is "Reggae for Dinner." This is more of a straight up South American soul number and its tone is infectious. Rounding out the set is the last contestant in the strange title competition, "Walkin the Cats." This is an old fashioned Caribbean soul number that will surely have you tapping your feet and drumming on the table top in time (at least I hope in time.)
H20 is an elegant, soothing, invigorating, masterful recording done by a musician whose obvious love and respect for the music and its considerable roots is evident in every number. H20 is good for the soul and for whatever may ail you. Have a drink or two.