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Rainbow Road
By Nancy Shoop-Wu
Label: Lei Hoku Music
Released 1/27/2017
Rainbow Road tracks
1. Rainbow Road
2. Pulelehua (Mountain Butterfly)
3. Lei Hoku (Star of Love)
4. Sunrise Over Haleiwa
5. Always in My Heart
6. Lullaby
7. Waimanalo
8. Carry Me Home
9. Beautiful Mana'o
10. In Your Eyes
11. Ma'noa Rain
12. Lele Noa (Flying Free)
NANCY SHOOP-WU - Rainbow Road
All songs composed by Nancy Shoop-Wu except “Pulelehua” by Nancy Shoop-Wu and Derek Nakamoto
Produced and arranged by Derek Nakamoto
Mixed by (depending on track):
Derek Nakamoto & Craig Burbidge at NMG Studios
Craig Burbidge at Binary Music Productions
Mastered by Peter Doell at AfterMaster Audio Labs
Photography by Duane Padilla, Designed by Kiki Perry

Released in 2017 Lei Hoku Music

Nancy Shoop-Wu: violin and vocals
Derek Nakamoto: piano and keyboards
Ian O’Sullivan: Hawaiian slack key guitar
Jeff Peterson: Hawaiian slack key guitar
Dean Taba: acoustic bass
Garin Poliahu: drums
Satnam Ramgotra: frame drum
Holo’ua Stender: Ipu drum

For an album, symmetry of cover art with the music inside is not always the case. Sometimes great artwork graces a mediocre recording and sometimes the opposite is true. In the case of violinist Nancy Shoop-Wu’s delightful Rainbow Road, the cover art and the music contained within the digipack are equally gorgeous. Posed against a picturesque backdrop of her home state Hawaii, framed by majestic mountains and lush green vegetation, the artist is seen with her prized instrument in hand, a delicate flower in her hair. The back cover is equally evocative as Nancy is seen walking away on a dirt path surrounded by even lusher vegetation. Kinda makes me want to find a job in Hawaii and move there right now! As if the artwork wasn’t beautiful enough to draw your attention, wait until you hear this musical treasure! Even after 20 years of reviewing, I am unexpectedly blown away when confronted by someone of Shoop-Wu's talent when she emerges, seemingly from out of nowhere.

I suppose that given the jaw-dropping natural beauty that permeates Hawaii, it is only natural that an album from an artist who has been living there and is deeply inspired by her surroundings would sound as lovely as Rainbow Road does. That doesn’t lessen the impact that this album will have on you the first time you play it. Nancy blends her affinity for the classical, New Age, and Hawaiian genres into a delightful fusion, flowing with melodies that caress the air much like a tropical breeze and that can refresh the weary spirit like a cooling rain on a hot day. Another impressive feature is that while the music on Rainbow Road is undeniably accessible, it is also unique and distinct. Part of this is the way in which the artist plays violin, never resorting to histrionics or “look at me” fireworks,” but instead wielding with a deft hand, a restraint born out of the knowledge that less can indeed be more when expressing emotions through music. Also, not to be overlooked is how unselfish Nancy is as an ensemble leader. While the majority of the songs feature violin in the spotlight, her guests get moments to shine as well. Principal among the guests are piano and keyboard player Derek Nakamoto and slack-key guitarist (a type of guitar playing native to Hawaii) Ian O’Sullivan.

What propels Rainbow Road more than anything else are Shoop-Wu's performing talent and her equally impressive composing skills. The twelve tracks on the CD (which includes four previously released songs from her first album, the EP Beautiful Mana'o), flow beautifully from the speakers; these melodies are almost siren-like in their beguiling appeal. In addition, her music so seamlessly blends her three musical loves: classical, Hawaiian, and New Age music, that while I can sometimes discern the specific genre elements, the fusion is so complete that what the listener is left with is not isolated influences but instead a hybrid that is warm, approachable, and soothing without being too much of any of the three descriptors.

A charming piano and guitar intro kick off the album on the title track. The sweetness and warmth of Nancy’s violin on this track (and elsewhere, for that matter) cannot be overstated. Her control over the instrument, from highest to lowest notes, is remarkable. Garin Poliahu’s drums on this track are perfectly mixed (why do so many producers and engineers fail at this aspect?) and serve as a gentle rhythm, anchoring the soaring flights of melody. “Lullaby” is just that – a superb example of a gentle melody meant to soothe and bring slumber. Gentle fingerstyle guitar is matched by subdued violin and sparse piano. Blissful is the best word to describe it. Delicate fingerstyle guitar at the outset of “Pulelehua” (Mountain Butterfly)” sets the stage for some of Shoop-Wu’s most carefully nuanced playing and I simply love the refrain on this song. It is brimming with romance but never sounds cloying or saccharine. A surprise awaits on “Carry Me Home” in the form of Shoop-Wu’s soulful vocals. Surprisingly, her singing somehow reminds me not of Hawaii but instead of Ireland. Her voice shares some sonic qualities with that of the vocalist for the pioneering Celtic fusion band, Nightnoise, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. Hearing the vocals, the piano and guitar on this song, I picture the rolling hills of Eire, surely the equal of Hawaii in their own rugged beauty.

Throughout the entire recording, Nancy Shoop-Wu’s violin playing imbues her melodies with such a genuine gentility and warmth that it's hard to believe Rainbow Road is only her second album. Such self-assuredness, allowing her compositions to unfurl so gracefully, and encouraging her guest stars to take equal stature with her, are the signs of a mature and accomplished artist. All of these factors bespeak a bright future for this talented instrumentalist.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 7/6/2017
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