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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

April 2004


Keali’i Reichel: “Ke’alaokamaile”


Reichel’s long-awaited fifth album is his most ballad-heavy to date – and his most personal; that’s appropriate for an album created to honor the spirit of his Tutu, Kamaile Puhi Kane, who passed away in 2000. There are a couple of more upbeat selections, but overall, this is a very gentle disc.

The CD opens with an evocation of Maui’s North Shore, with the waves underscoring a poem, then a genealogy chant in kawele style by Henohea Kane, which moves into a mele lei Keali’i wrote over a decade ago – a name chant for grandmother. The album’s tone is set by the first full song, “Ka Nohona Pili Kai,” with its nahenahe string arrangement.

Reichel loves to take English-language songs and rework them with his own seasoning, and Sting’s hit “Fields Of Gold” gets the treatment here, with guest guitarist Kapono Beamer. A bit of Reichel’s childhood comes to the fore with a peppy rendition of “Pupu A’o ‘Ewa,” which may be the first song many island residents ever learned. Willie K sits in the guest chair here, on guitar and ‘ukulele, and this is done full-tilt in Hawaiian (rather than just being relegated to the echo parts.)

Other ballads in the mix include “Mele ‘Ohana” by Damon Williams of Maui, Kenny Loggins’ “For The First Time” (a duet with Na Leo Pilimehana’s Lehua Kalima-Heine, this will be the ‘wedding’ song from this album, for certain), a new Puakea Nogelmeier composition, “Kaiona” (with an arrangement by Honolulu Pops conductor/big-band leader Matt Catingub), and the tear-jerker that finishes the album, “Goodbye My Friend” by Karla Bonoff.

The songs aren’t all sleepers, though – chances are you’ve already heard Ho’okena joining in on “Lahainaluna,” as it was issued earlier on the second “Pride Of Punahele” compilation. (Note: this tribute to his alma mater is NOT the English-language song we’ve heard for years.) “Na ‘Ono O Ka ‘Aina” is a bouncy, harmony-laden traditional mele, reminiscent of Kawai Cockett (who did it years ago) or of the trio Na Palapalai – who sing backup on it.

There are, unfortunately, some weak spots as well. I don’t really understand why he chose to include a remix of “Ka Nohona Pili Kai,” by Maui producer Liam Selwyn, unless it was as a favor. The synth percussion cheeses it up, although having piano fill in where the string section was is a nice touch. Sequenced percussion is also prominent on “You Were There,” which was previously only available on KCCN’s “Pride of the Islands 3” collection in 2000; this is a song Babyface originally contributed to the soundtrack of the film “Simon Birch.”

In addition to the special guests mentioned above, John Koko (of Makaha Sons) and John Kolivas also appear on several songs. As much as we all wish Keali’i would be more prolific in his recorded output, since each new album seems to be worth the wait, we can learn to be patient.

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