One Track Mind: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World" (1993)

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by Pico

I’ve never been much of a movie watcher, and less of a fan of movie soundtracks. But back in 2000 I rented the then-new release Finding Forrester, a movie that featured Sean Connery. And while the movie itself was good, I couldn’t help but to notice what an outstanding and adventurous collection of songs chosen to adorn the flick. There was the music of early-fusion Miles, Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell playing all over the film (Connerly frantically tapping out prose on a typewriter while Coleman’s “Happy House” played was a pretty cool pairing of whack jazz and cinema). It was almost as if the job of picking the songs were left to, ahem, Nick and me.

Shortly after watching the movie I immediately purchased the soundtrack, an act I’ve only done once before when I regrettably bought the ill-fated 1978 “Sergeant Pepper” soundtrack. It was well worth breaking the twenty-two year boycott over.

While there isn’t a weak track in the lineup, one song in the middle of it nonetheless stands out because it’s the one that doesn’t follow the pattern of adventurous jazz, and it’s the only one with sung lyrics. That would be the mini-medley divinely sung by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, “Over The Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World”, a song that would later show up in more movies and TV shows.

Prior to this movie, I never heard of Kamakawiwo’ole and his kind of music is one I normally wouldn’t be inclined to explore. But this Hawaiian native had become something of a superstar in his state for his appealing brand of Hawaiian pop, his ukelele and most of all, that angelic voice of his. “Iz”, as he is affectionately referred to in the Rainbow State, was already dead for three years when I made my discovery; his persistent morbid obesity eventually did him in at the age of only 38. But as I discovered in a trip I made out there last summer, he is still widely revered and his CD’s are sold in every corner store on the islands.

Now, “angelic” is not a term that’s usually ascribed to a guy’s voice, especially when the guy looks like he’d squash Ric Flair like a bug in the rasslin’ ring, but that is just what his was. He possessed a soothing tenor like Aaron Neville, but it just seemed to flow out in a dreamy tone without any rough edges whatsoever. His relaxed vocal delivery matched the relaxed and gentle attitude of his native state.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: if someone’s going to tackle such over-covered standards like “Over The Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World”, it better be not just good, but out-freakin-standing. In this version, the absence of an orchestra and heavy arrangements takes out all the syrup from these tunes without any of the sweetness. Iz, armed with just a ukelele and his gentle pipes, makes an unadorned rendering in a Hawaiian lullaby style which puts all the focus on his effortless singing. Also effortless is the way Iz transitions from “Over” to “World” and back again. That said, I don’t need to go on any further about it; you can listen (and look) for yourselves:

Purchase: Original Movie Soundtrack Finding Forrester

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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