Music Review: Harmonica guru Lee Oskar's all sunshine on funky instrumental album 'She Said Mahalo'

This cover image released by Dreams We Share shows "She Said Mahalo" by Lee Oskar. (Dreams We Share via AP)

On the instrumental album “She Said Mahalo,” Lee Oskar plays funk, reggae, a lullaby and more, all while using less than a dozen harmonicas. The harp virtuoso known for being a founding member of the rock-funk band War is front and center in a varied mix of arrangements that includes guitar, keys, winds, strings and buoyant percussion.

“She Said Mahalo,” serves up sunny music for mornings when words are too much to process. The warm tone of Oskar’s unhurried harp rides smooth grooves, and several tunes sound like TV or movie themes.

“Morning Rush” pairs a caffeinated rhythm with two classic Japanese instruments, shakuhachi and shamisen, courtesy of Oskar's collaborations with “Sancho” Youichrou Suzuki and Mayo Higa respectively.

“Caribbean Love Song” achieves an island sensibility, as if the rhythm section was placed directly on the beach.

On “Funky Rhetoric,” the funk is more than rhetorical, and the tune’s put-your-hands-together beat sends Oskar’s high-C harp soaring.

The tempo slows on the title cut, with a string section providing a lovely counterpoint to the wistful melody. Oskar saves the best for last – the muscular “One-World Fist” — a slice of wonderfully weird Klezmer get-down.

In the physical edition of “She Said Mahalo,” liner notes include a narrative regarding each tune and a list of harmonicas played — along with paintings by Oskar that are as appealing as one of his solos — making for an enhanced listening experience.

“She Said Mahalo” will be released on Friday.


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