The Exotic Sounds: The Very Best of Martin Denny

This Japanese compilation was issued on CD in 1991, and I found it at an antique store in Sacramento for $8 and picked it up immediately. Though the case is clipped, the CD is in great shape and the booklet is too – apart from nearly all of the writing being in Japanese!

I’ve been looking for this one for a long time, and it includes four tracks I don’t have on any of the other CD or digital reissues of Denny’s material. In fact, I’d say this 74 minute album is actually a pretty comprehensive collection that spans most of Denny’s 1950s-1960s output. The strongest material comes from Denny’s murderer’s row of 1950’s albums that ended with The Enchanted Sea, of course. But some of the 1960s tracks are quite good and representative of Denny’s later material, including “Blue Paradise” from 1962’s Romantica and “Indrani” from 1968’s A Taste of India. The version of “Black Orchid” is a live version that sounds great.

The photo of Denny and his band on the back cover features “The Modernist” tiki and is possibly taken outside the San Francisco Trader Vic’s.

Lahaina Sunset by Mark Riddle

A visit to Maui inspired Mark Riddle to record an exotica album with tracks inspired by his trip. Vibraphonist Riddle is also known by DigiTiki, host of the long-running Quiet Village podcast, and also by Marty Lush (ex-Tikiyaki Orchestra). Drawing inspiration from Arthur Lyman’s style and his Hawaiian Sunset Vol. 2 album, Riddle’s collection of songs will appeal to those looking for mellow melodies with lavish arrangements.

The title track blends vibraphones and ukulele and delivers a strong opening song complete with the sounds of lapping waves and birds. The mid-tempo “Road to Hana” opens with dreamy sounds that provides the listener with the feeling of entering a portal, and continues on a journey with a hypnotic driving rhythm. Several songs pay homage to Lahaina’s Japanese cultural roots by using familiar music themes and bamboo instrumentation. Of these tracks, “Evening at Hong Kong Gardens” is the most interesting, featuring intricate piano and Japanese stringed instrumentation.

“Lahaina Hula” was written as a Hula song, but the tempo is slowed down so dramatically you may not understand why it seems so familiar. The cheekily named “Tune for Crab Rangoon” is the the most traditional exotica track, with interplay between piano and vibraphone that any Martin Denny fan will love. The lone cover song is “Path of the Wind” and closes side two of the album with aplomb, though two stand-out bonus tracks are available on the digital release.

I’ve never felt that most of Arthur Lyman’s recordings were mixed properly, but there are no such flaws on Riddle’s. None of the delicate instruments are lost in the mix, nor is there too much to get in the way of the vibraphone or piano that leads the melody. Ambient sounds support the music and themes well.

Lahaina Sunset is available in several formats. Many will be drawn to the audiophile virgin vinyl LP, but a deeper drive is available via the Flash Drive version that comes with bonus tracks, music videos, behind the scenes making of videos, and a version of the album without ambient audio sounds. A faux postcard features the photo from the album on the front and a note from “Marty” on the back. There’s also an option to purchase the LP and the Flash Drive at the same time.

Lahaina Sunset is available at

Mai Tai in Pop Culture: “Mai Tais on the Moon” by Tikiyaki Orchestra

When you’re drinking a Mai Tai, the stuff in the glass is the most important part. But the place where you drink the Mai Tai is also key. Do you want to hear loud hair metal while drinking a Mai Tai? No, you want relaxing exotic music that helps transport you to a different place or at least to forget the cares of the world. We call this music Exotica.

The most prominent Exotica band currently performing and putting out new music is the Tikiyaki Orchestra. The group was formed by Jim Bacchi and to date they’ve issued several well regarded albums with tracks that are frequently played in tiki bars worldwide and also in places like Adventureland at Disneyland. Tikiyaki plays live as a seven-piece group at several tiki-related events each year. In the last couple years, a four-person combo has been producing surf-oriented recordings and playing live under the moniker Tikiyaki 5-0.

The first Tikiyaki Orchestra album featured a song called “Mai Tais on the Mood” and is representative of the group’s signature sound. It’s a mix of classic exotic percussion, vibraphone, slack key, and surf guitar. This was actually the first song Bacchi recorded as Tikiyaki Orchestra.

Wait, there’s more!

As I was preparing this post, we learned there is new Tikiyaki music being made available as of today! In fact, it has only been recently conceived and recorded.

Sketches with Guitar and Bongos is being issued under the moniker “Tikiyaki minus orchestra” because it’s a stripped-down arrangement featuring percussion and guitars. The songs are right in line with previous Tikiyaki recordings in that they’ll fit in just fine at the tiki bar. This is great stuff and maybe the first positive thing to come out of the COVID-19 social shutdown.

Head on over to the Tikiyaki Orchestra website or go to Bandcamp to purchase the album

Tonight we’ll raise a Mai Tai to Tikiyaki!

Jim Bacchi performing with Tikiyaki 5-0 at Tiki Kon 2018.

Mai Tai in Pop Culture: “Mai Tai” by Les Baxter

This is track number 6 (closing Side A) from Les Baxter’s 1963 album Soul of the Drums. This albums was one of Baxter’s last in the exotica genre and is pretty good overall.

Unfortunately, “Mai Tai” is maybe the least exotic song on the album, and was described by Ambient Exotica (reprinted in The Les Baxter Companion, 2018) as a “stupefying silkened string panorama.” Since this album was Baxter’s first on Reprise it also means that none of its tracks made it onto the otherwise excellent Capitol Records compilations from the 1990s.

Mai Tai in Pop Culture: “Mai Tai Break” by L’Exotighost

We discovered a new exotica band from Spain called L’Exotighost who put out an EP last year called La Ola Oculta. There are a number of interesting songs here, including “Cha Cha Challoween” that includes the classic theme from the movie Halloween.

Here’s a list of the band members: Theremin & Güiro (Javier Díez Ena), Drums & congas (Ricardo Moreno), Marimba (María Arranz Fernández y Vera Garrido), Bass Ukulele (Juan Pérez Marina) Audio manipularion of birds and theremin sound (Jav Álvarez). 

The La Ola Oculta EP is available in a number of services including the music streaming services and also iTunes.

The band put together an entertaining video for their single, “Mai Tai Break.” This song has the Theremin as the lead instrument, and it’s quite effective on this track. We’ll also note that they’re being served a traditional 1944 Mai Tai made with Appleton Rum, so somebody really knows what they’re doing.