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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5
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CD Reviews

BILL HARTWELL: The Ghost of the Kona Low

by Wayne RikerJanuary 2024

The Ghost of the Kona Low is the latest CD drop from singer/songwriter/guitarist Bill Hartwell, recorded and produced by Jim Soldi at his Outhouse recording studio in Ramona, California. The 13-track offering—12 original tunes plus one cover—features an A-list team of musos, including Soldi on guitars, piano, and backing vocals; Sharon Whyte, keys; Doug Powell, viola; Jim Reeves, bass; TJ Klay, harmonica; Rick Schmitt, pedal steel guitar; Bob Sale, drums; and Cathryn Beeks, background vocals.

The opening track, an upbeat country rocker, “Wander Down This Road,” sets the tone for Hartwell’s well-written lyrics throughout. “So for every sun that sets there is a sunrise…every ending is the start of something new…I may not know where I’m going to, but that’s all right If I can wander down this road with you,” followed by a straight ahead blues goodie “Everyone But the Devil Has Got the Blues,” with keen observations from Hartwell. “Money and power don’t give you the right to force another to feed your appetite, the devil’s got that special seat reserved for those who prey upon the weak,” fueled by torrid blues phrases from Klay’s harmonica.

Hartwell’s exquisitely written tender ballads are front and center, leading off with “All That Love Can Do,” ornamented by the dulcet tones from Powell’s viola. “Sometimes life is hard, sometimes love is too, but it’s the best when I’m with you.” Also, the nostalgic theme in “Wasn’t It Just Yesterday.” “Wasn’t it just yesterday that a nightmare made you scream…now here you are a woman on the threshold of your dream.”

Additionally, “Hold On.” “I’ve longed for love that would never fade away…I had faith that love like yours would come my way.” And on the ballad, “Loving You,” supported by Whyte’s piano motifs and a synthesized cello. “Through these sudden winds and rising tides, we’ll take life’s troubles side by side.” The two steppin’ track “My Home Now” speaks from the heart. “Resist power without apathy, be the country we were meant to be.”

Another upbeat country rocker, “Let It Ride,” turns Schmitt loose with blazing pedal steel guitar licks amid Hartwell’s lyrics: “all my life it’s been a rough ride…too many times I let my heart decide,” not to be outdone by the rocker “Round Peg,” bringing back Klay into the fold with some more tasty blues harmonica licks along with Schmitt tearing it up on pedal steel guitar and bolstered by a full chorus of background voices. The slick arrangement of the minor key title track, “The Ghost of the Kona Low” narrates the legend of Kona Low. “The wind will howl, the surf will pound, rivers will rise, head for higher ground…angry, wet and heavy southern winds will blow, sailors pray they’ll never meet the ghost of the Kona Low.”

The album’s original tunes ends with a full-band arrangement behind Soldi’s searing guitar solo, Whyte’s barrelhouse piano phrases and a full on rockin’ vocal chorus ornamenting more of Hartwell’s insightful and clever lyrics on today’s sad state of blame games from both political tribes, a lyrical masterpiece that a youthful Bob Dylan would be proud of. “Don’t blame it on me, it’s not my fault, I don’t get involved until the problem is solved, so don’t blame me.”

Hartwell caps off the project with a cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Lonely for a While,” set only behind Soldi’s baritone guitar accompaniment and putting the finishing touches on a delightful listen of Hartwell’s eclectic array of lyrical craftsmanship on par with any of the past and

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