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Phil Hawkins: H2O

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With steel pans as the lead instrument and a lineup that also includes drums and percussion, there is little doubt that H2O will have an emphasis on groove. Of course, while the churning bottom is an undeniable focus of the music, Phil Hawkins has also composed some light, airy melodies to float above the beats. The music is unfailingly relaxed and possesses a breezy Caribbean lilt that seems to assure that everything will get done in its own sweet time.

Never Stop Building de Pan plays Hawkins' steel pans against driving second-line drums. "Beautiful Soul starts out with some exotic bird calls a la Martin Denny before guest Jessica Vautor contributes lovely vocals in Creole. Pianist Matt Clark also adds a meditative solo over the swaying bossa nova rhythm.

However, there are moments when the music veers into overly slick territory. Nobody expects grittiness here, but the synthesized keyboards on "Tragedy add little in the way of texture, veering a bit too close to what one might hear over the sound system at an all-inclusive vacation resort. Also distracting is the way that the opening track, "Livin' Right, appears to quote the main theme from Super Mario Bros. Each time the phrase was played, I found myself tensing and wrapping my hands around an imaginary NES controller.

The playing on H2O is obviously expert, but Hawkins would benefit from a less sterile sound. It would also be interesting to hear the steel pans featured in less familiar settings.


Track Listing: Livin' Right; Never Stop Building de Pan; Dream of the Western Guitar Repairman; Beautiful Soul; Kimba; Tragedy; Divertido; Reggae for Dinner; Walkin' the Cats.

Personnel: Phil Hawkins: steel pans, percussion, keyboards, ukulele; Matt Clark: piano; Marc van Wageningen: bass; Paul van Wageningen: drums; Michael Spiro: percussion; Bob Crawford: piano (6,7); Gerry Grosz: vibes (3,9); James Moore: trumpet (2,5); Stan Ginn: congas (3,8); Alex Acu

Title: H2O | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Ramajay Records


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