Monday, February 27, 2006

Petty Booka - Christmas Everywhere

Earlier this month (February 3rd to be precise), I ordered four Christmas CDs from Amazon and I promised full reviews of each when they arrived.

The final CD I ordered arrived last week in the midst of my week-long review of homemade Christmas compilations. It was definitely worth the wait.

In the early 1990s, an all-girl punk band named Flamenco A Go Go formed in Japan - Petty was the singer in the band, Booka the guitarist. After moderate success, Flamenco disbanded.

However, their manager committed them to record "Karma Chameleon" for a 1980s cover compilation. Petty and Booka banded together, recorded an acoustic version, and brought in The Toconuts, a Japanese Hawaiian band for the background.

Seizing on a great opportunity, they recorded their first full album of Hawaiian music entitled "Toconut's Hawaii". While on tour, Petty and Booka performed live onstage in hula skirts, playing ukelele, and, in a nod to their punk days, wearing combat boots.

Their tour was a huge success and this led to their second album with a country flavor: "Fujiyama Mama". Featuring songs like "My Baby Don't Dance To Nothing But Ernest Tubb" and a bluegrass cover of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild", the album and stage performances (in full Patsy Cline country garb) continued to add to their charm and popularity.

Their third album was this one - recorded and released in Japan in 1996 (released in the US by Weed Records seven years later). This CD captures the band at a delicate turning point in their career. They were fully Japanese, not yet Hawaiian, quickly becoming country & bluegrass, and their punk beginnings wouldn't totally go away. What results is a wonderful blend of all these styles fused into Christmas music.

Their first song is an accapella version of "Christmas Is Coming" which slides right into a Hawaiian version of "Christmas Island". A quick shift of the gears gives us their 3rd song - a cover of John Prine's "Christmas In Prison". I've never been a big fan of this song but Petty Booka's version is so sincere and innocent that I was transfixed to the speakers.

A country version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is next only to be followed by "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" (utilizing the famous Nat King Cole arrangement). What next? Another change in gears? More like thrown in reverse: "Colorado Christmas". Written by Steve Goodman ("City Of New Orleans") and originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, this song is so well done that all the previous silliness disappears and you're amazed by the beautiful singing voices of Petty and Booka.

Somewhere, Steve Goodman (a Chicagoan, a songwriter extraordinaire, a personal hero of mine, a lifelong Cub fan, and a victim of leukemia back in 1984) is smiling (maybe even chuckling) at the beauty of the concept of this band.

The next three songs are a very mambo flavored "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (think Billy May's classic version), a very Hawaiian flavored "Mele Kalikimaka", and a very countrified-Chet Atkins instrumental version of "Jingle Bells". How to top these three songs? Very simple - two Japanese versions of "Rudolph" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Their fourth album, "Hawaiian Pure Heart" (1997), features covers of Blondie's "The Tide Is High", Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", and Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" all in a Hawaiian flavor! Their fifth album, "Sweetheart Of The Radio" (1997), features covers of CCR's "Proud Mary", Johnny Preston's "Running Bear", and Madonna's "Material Girl" all in a country / bluegrass flavor!

Around this time, Petty decided to leave the group and was replaced by a new "Petty". The duo wanted an authentic Hawaiian flavor for their sixth album "Blue Lagoon". They travelled to Hawaii, recorded more tunes with a Hawaiian / country flavor, and even got the only living Hawaiian lounge legend - Martin Denny - to play piano on their cover of Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze"!

Their 1998 album "Dancing With Petty Booka" features "the latest in dance hall music from Tokyo" and was JUST released in the US (either on February 14th or March 1, 2006 depending on what source you believe)!

By 2002, the group was beginning to make inroads into America. They launched their first concert tour, was featured on NPR and various radio shows, and Weed Records began releasing their music. Just as they arrived, Booka left the group to become a mother and a new "Booka" was quickly signed up. They continue to record and perform on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the information you've read above came from their official website. Head over there to hear additional MP3s, see pictures of their various US shows, and videos of them in concert.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


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