Sitting with her recently, slippers off and inhibitions aside, I found out a little more about Maui’s folk singer, and much more about others.
“I have the most amazing friends and family in the world,” said Gail, as her bright eyes gleamed. “I’m so grateful.”
This sweet, silly and sexy musician is still flying high from her CD release party last month at Mulligan’s On the Blue. For many, it will go down in history as one of the best guest-list shows Maui’s ever seen—and I’m referring to the stage.
Gail Swanson hosted a magical CD release party last month at Mulligan’s On the Blue.
Photo: Sean Michael Hower
“They came to help me celebrate,” she said. “I love my friends and my home.”
Maui’s good friend Gail recently released her sixth album, Simple Truth, which features an impressive line-up that most artists will never have the opportunity to enjoy.
Gail declares Simple Truth wouldn’t have come to life without Doobie Brother Pat Simmons, whom she calls the “coolest producer, songwriter, musician and friend forever.” He provided his production and/or vocal and guitar skills on several tracks, including The One That Got Away, a duet with Willie Nelson, which is slated to appear on an upcoming “duets” album from the American legend. Nelson and Gail also bare Half a Heart, the album’s lovesick finale.
Speaking of duets, my favorite is Missing You, a cover of John Cruz’s earnest love song. The beloved soul man accompanied Gail, and their live performance last month sent a wave of emotion flooding into listeners’ hearts.
The illustrious Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan) nearly caused Gail a car accident last year when he suggested a duet of his version of End of the World. The “blue-eyed soul” shows off his ‘ukulele skills and famous voice on the Skeeter Davis classic, integrating Gail’s rustic sentiments.
“This is the coolest party I’ve ever been to—and it’s mine. Unbelievable,” said Gail when she looked out into a sea of friends.
Between songs, the magical evening was filled with colorful stories, including a bathroom tale regarding Beautiful Again (Do Do Song). (View YouTube’s “Do Do Song Maui.”)
The opening of Simple Truth reveals Matter to You, packed with quite the welcoming committee. Simmons, fellow Doobie John McFee and his Dobro guitar and renowned bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson joined Gail to create a surefire hit.
One of my favorites is Here to There, with Tom Conway’s fantastic guitar resonance and Paul Marchetti keeping it cool on percussion. Plus, the multi-talented Gail gets to pull out her bluesy “yazz” flute.
All of the friends mentioned above—excluding Nelson, who Simmons joked “was probably in jail somewhere”—performed at the party. McDonald’s talented wife, Amy, even stepped up, and the adorable Cris Sommer-Simmons radiated in her debut.
The evening rounded out with the timeless I Heard It Through the Grapevine with McDonald on vocals and keyboards, and the thrilling finale of the Doobies’ Takin’ It To The Streets and Long Train Runnin’. (My father is forever envious.)
Gail had a little help from her friends, but the star was the petite soul sister, who shined bright as her charm and showmanship dazzled us all—despite her cold-induced rasp. The music greats were there for one reason—they know Gail’s the real deal.
“It was probably the best night of my life,” she said.
Gail’s music and stage presence are reminiscent of American folk heroine Ani DiFranco, yet Gail maintains more heart and less angst, conveying thoughtful lyrics to take you on a journey. Check out Mid Air, a bare track with Gail and her guitar. I wage DiFranco would like this and the somber declaration Eggshells. Future duet? Anything’s possible with Gail.
Her friend and Italian teacher Chelsea Hill helped her compose the magnifico piece, Richiamo A Madre Terra. Fall in love with this passionate prayer for Mother Earth.
In support of Simple Truth, Gail will be hitting the Mainland, including opening for Hawai‘i’s own luminaries, HAPA, at the legendary Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in April.
“I love Mainland gigs because I have a lot of different fans all over, and I get to see more friends and family,” she said.
Gail has struggled with her voice over the years, nearly losing it altogether at one point. “That was the hardest time of my life,” she said. “It’s a constant battle, but I’m playing it by ear and love performing.”
A major goal is to have her songs in film and television, and to write songs for “big-name artists.” “It’s always been a dream of mine,” said Gail. “I’m a songwriter first.”
Gail loves opening for her musical heroes and mentors—including Nelson who has invited her to his annual Fourth of July Picnic in Austin, Texas.
“I’m still not sure why these guys agree to work with me,” said Gail.
I do—and so does everyone who knows her.