“The beauty of love, the beauty of place, the beauty of life.” Michael Keale’s words inside the jacket of his CD introduce us to the theme of his newest album No Ka Beauty (Mountain Apple Company). The musician, whose previous songs garnered two Na Hoku Hanohano Award Nominations in 2011 for “Island Album of the Year” and “Most Promising Artist,” has positioned himself for more critical praise with his graceful covers on traditional Hawaiian tunes.
Rather than pluck a sequence of random melodies you’d hear on a Thursday afternoon in the Grand Wailea Resort lobby, Keale weaves his message of omnipresent beauty through all 10 songs. Sometimes love can get ugly, like tissues and old Cheetos stained with stale tears littered across your bedroom floor kind of ugly. But Keale embodies the ideal that everything is beautiful as he associates all notions of romance with pretty images like flowers and the Hanalei rains.
You’d expect track eight–”Na Moku ‘eha”–to play from luau speakers during the embarrassing hula contest your mother-in-law dragged you to, with its fun ukulele strings and simple lyrics about the gorgeous mountains of Mauna Kea and Haleakala. But Keale delves beyond Hawaii’s aesthetics and into the world of love, his wistful voice bringing out the bittersweet tone of “Pikake” as he sings about the universal epidemic of not being able to move on from a detached lover. Rather than let antipathy betray his lyrics as scorned lovers often do (ahem-Big Sean?), Keale’s words are gentle as a sympathetic ukulele accompanies his woe.
Keale continues to yearn for love in a rather optimistic attitude as a dramatic piano introduces his next song “E Ku`u Lei.” While the slower track could betray hopelessness, the elegant piano and Keale’s thoughtful inflictions on his lyrics make you admire him as a love martyr–much like how you felt when Will Turner accepted his fate as the captain of the Flying Dutchman and could only unite with his lover Elizabeth Swann once every decade. Much of the rest of Keale’s album plays out in a similar sensitive voice, though sometimes it’s upbeat like in “Ka Ua Loku, where a whimsical piano and guitar play along to Hawaiian words which translate to the sea whispering how “you and I should be together again.”
You can play the songs on No Ka Beauty while staring out a rainy window reminiscing about a past beau or while dancing with a current one. Either way, each of Keale’s songs instill a genuine sense of happiness. Maybe not the same kind of happiness you’d express if three triple diamonds lined up in Vegas, but it’s a subtle bliss that makes you appreciate all parts of life–joyful and heartbreaking. Or, as Keale says in the album introduction, “I’ve found that the potential of how much beauty we experience in life really depends on us.”
Photo courtesy Mountain Apple Company