Arthur Lyman, Pearly Shells

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Pearly Shells

Arthur Lyman
A lounge-exotica master with a sly, subtle sense of subversion.

One of the masters of the kitschy "exotic music" style that graced America's bulky console stereos in the late '50s and early '60s, Arthur Lyman knew how to tweak a melody. While the cool, easy-listening stylings went on below, he'd adorn his hooks with conch shell toots and the chatter of macaws and monkeys, taking standard fare like "Poinciana" to a fanciful jungle paradise. It works, thanks to thoughtful, low-key arrangements and restrained playing, emphasizing space as much as notes. When Lyman does let go, as on the percussion break on "Simulau," it's still nothing less (and nothing more) than tasteful, giving only the idea of abandon &#8212 the very essence of the exotic genre. But a sly, subtle sense of subversion runs throughout the music; even a classic Hawaiian set-piece like "Aloha Oe" gets quietly turned around into something unusual and even a tiny bit unsettling. An album where the familiar is transformed into the unusual, Pearly Shells is like a hall of mirrors &#8212 with palm trees.