We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The intersection of the fan bases of Gale Garnett, Gomez, and Annette Funicello couldn’t account for more than a couple hundred misfits worldwide. So how is it that Petty Booka, the ukulele-strumming female vocal duo that covers each of these artists on its beguiling new best-of compilation, Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian, regularly moves 10,000 units? Despite the fact that the Tokyo-based band advertises itself as hailing from Texas, Kentucky, or Hawaiidepending on whether it’s trafficking in Western swing, bluegrass, or “Polynesian” soundsit’s taken eight years for U.S. audiences to be allowed to find out. Let’s Talk Dirty, the duo’s first stateside release, draws the bulk of its 19 selections from two of the “from Hawaii” albums, 1997’s Hawaiian Pure Heart and 1999’s Ukulele Lady. The latter’s title track is breeze-brushed woo-pitching of the first water, being none the worse for wear nearly 80 years after it was a hit for Vaughn Deleath. PB also does right by “Dancing in the Street,” making good on the ecumenical promise of the 1964 original by broadcasting the good vibes to Honolulu, Halifax, and Manchestereven Alexandria (though probably not ours). Arriving from Jamaica by the way of Blondie’s Manhattan, “The Tide Is High” continues the infectious island-hopping, stopping at Narita only long enough to book a flight to Okinawa. Japan is, of course, a nation of superfans; whatever you’re into, from Brian Hyland to Tom Waits to the Ramones, in a cramped efficiency somewhere on Honshu is a shrine that puts your ardor to shame. One suspects such enthusiasms drive Petty Booka producer and manager Hiroshi Asada. Through Pettys and Bookas old and new, the onetime New York resident has remained a constant presence. Yes, it might have made more sense for him to have distributed PB’s tikified discs in the United States as they were first released, the better to capitalize on the ’90s lounge craze. But lumping the band in with Pizzicato Five and Black Velvet Flag would only have ensured that it was forgotten once the Irony Decade was over. Besides, there’s nary a smirk in evidence as Petty and Booka apply a daffily imprecise grasp of English and the chirpiest harmonizing this side of Ross Bagdasarian to songs they’re clearly smitten with. Though it’s a short jaunt up the alphabet from Hawaii to kawaii, not everyone will be willing to make the tripwinsome, you lose some, as they say. But if Petty Booka doesn’t have the chops and the charm to make the Sanrio-phobes and the hula hatas hum along, you can bet nobody else does. Glenn Dixon