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Music Review: Bing Crosby – Return to Paradise Islands

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I’ll never forget my first visit to Hawaii. As a graduation present, my parents took me to the beautiful islands and we enjoyed ourselves enormously in the midst of the rich culture and incredible warmth and hospitality. It’s a memory I cherish.

Part of the magic of the trip was to walk along the beach at night and explore various hotel courtyards, taking in different musical acts while enjoying some sort of fruity beverage served in a hollowed-out pineapple. The music flowed peacefully into the night air and I relaxed on deck chairs with my parents, taking in the smell of the water and the serenity of light ukulele and gracious vocalists.

Bing Crosby’s Return to Paradise Islands brought it all back to me. With arrangements by the marvelously talented Nelson Riddle, this record of island-inspired music carries all the cool blue flow of my Hawaiian vacation.
Crosby’s love for his paradise is clear with each deep, yearning tone he draws in.

Of course, his affection for Hawaii was no secret and Return was far from his first run at the genre. It was first suggested that Crosby put together a record of Hawaiian music in 1936, when the head of Decca Records wanted him to create a few pieces to coincide with a Crosby family vacation. Bing’s film, Waikiki Wedding, would further demonstrate his passion.

In 1963, Return to Paradise Islands was recorded for Sinatra’s Reprise Records. It was an apt title, as Crosby hadn’t really touched Hawaiian music in about twenty or so years. Returning to his love for the islands drew out more tenderness than fans had heard in years and the light, breezy sway was back.

Reissued by the good folks at Collectors’ Choice, this deluxe release includes the entire record and a pile of fascinating bonus features that further flesh out Crosby’s passion for the locale. The bonus cuts were recorded in 1961 exclusively for the Crosby/Clooney CBS radio program and the various false starts and studio nuggets add charming insights to the Binger’s process.

The Riddle arrangements are terrific, as always. There’s a cinematic quality to what he does as an arranger and each piece feels special and broad. The sweeping strings on the title track, for instance, serve as more than welcoming beacons to the record; they allow us to become fully engrossed in the project. We become engaged with Crosby as his voice takes us to that private beach under the “velvet moon.”

The Collectors’ Choice deluxe edition of Return to Paradise Islands is a treat. Like sipping on an authentic Mai Tai from the Royal Hawaiian, this record is a delightful, lovely nod to the joy of escaping it all.

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