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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

February 2005

 

Grammy Hopefuls 

 

Here (in alphabetical order) is a summary of the five CDs nominated for the first-ever Grammy Award for “Best Hawaiian Album,” to be presented on Sunday, February 13, 2005; two of them have been reviewed previously in this paper, and I’ve added personal comments as to what I think their chances are of taking home the little gold record player:

The Brothers Cazimero: “Some Call It Aloha … Don’t Tell” (Mountain Apple)

Call them superstars, call them dinosaurs, call them innovative or call them old-fashioned, you cannot deny the Caz their place high in the pantheon of Hawaiian music. Technically, this is their 36 th album, but they are by no means ‘phoning it in’ at this point. These guys have still put in a full day’s work and then some, to create their first album of new material in six years. Filled with a mixture of new compositions, Hawaiian standards and classic songs, it serves to quiet any critics who feel that the prime days of the duo have passed. Their songwriting is still as beautiful as ever, with Robert credited for most of the originals; however, Roland provides creativity throughout. (Nipping at Keali`i’s heels, they have a chance to win in recognition of their life’s work and extensive catalogue.)

 

Amy Hānaiali`i Gilliom & Willie K: “Amy & Willie Live” (Blind Man Sound)

One of the most fun albums to come on the scene in years, this material is culled from a series of West Coast shows the duo presented in the Summer of 2003, including a stop at Seattle’s waterfront pier concert series. (In fact, the entire first half of the CD is taken from the Seattle gig.) Those who saw the live events know how much fun Willie and Amy were having, and this album succeeds in translating that exuberance to an audio-only context. The in-between-song banter (as well as some within the songs themselves) enhances the on-the-mark performances of some great material. (A popular album, but unlikely to convince enough voters that it has enough ‘Hawaiian-ness’ to win.)

 

Ho`okena: “Cool Elevation” (Ho`omau)

Representing the current generation’s traditional sound-makers, this is the eighth album for a group that considers its music career as a part-time gig – one that’s been going on since 1986. Most of the band’s members are now recognized names in the Hawaiian music industry, not only through this group, but for their contributions as songwriters, producers, instrument builders, and in other musical collectives. (They include Manu Boyd, Horace Dudoit and Chris Kamaka.) “Cool Elevation” continues their crisp, classic sound – where even their new compositions sound as if they have been part of everyone’s repertoire for as long as anyone can remember. Tight blending harmonies, strong arrangements and top-notch playing have solidified Ho`okena’s place in the history of Island music. (A long shot, though it probably garners the most support from Hawaiian music purists – but who knows how many Grammy voters are among them?)

 

Keali`i Reichel: “Ke`alaokamaile” (Punahele)

The unstoppable Reichel presents an album, dedicated to his grandmother, that was long-awaited. Released just in time to be in a lot of Christmas 2003 stockings, it’s another collection of mixed material starring one of the most enchanting of male Island vocalists. Overall, the disc features a heavy dose of ballads, but his versions of “Pūpū A`o `Ewa” (sung in Hawaiian, rather than mixed with the English “Pearly Shells” lyric) and “Lahainaluna” (featuring the vocal harmonies of Ho`okena) are peppy ear-grabbers. Lehua (from Nā Leo Pilimehana) and the trio Nā Palapalai also make guest appearances. (The favored candidate, partially due to his Hoku success as well as his familiarity among Mainland audiences.)

 

Various Artists/Charles Michael Brotman, producer: “Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2” (Palm)

Brotman’s Palm label has been quietly issuing gorgeous albums from the Big Island for several years, mostly in an instrumental vein. He’s also a fine guitarist in his own right, both solo and as part of the trio, Kohala. As the title notes, this is their second compilation of ki ho`alu tunes, featuring a stable of not-quite-the-big-stars of the guitar, but recognizable names nonetheless. In addition to Brotman and another member of Kohala (Charlie Recaido), you’ll hear selections by Ken Emerson, John Keawe, Keoki Kahumoku, Bryan Kessler, Randy Lorenzo, Sonny Lim, Jeff Peterson, and John Cruz. (Could be a surprise winner, if enough Academy members who are not well-versed in Hawaiian music voted – because many have at least heard of slack-key.)

Congratulations to all of the nominees, and a huge “mahalo” to all who have been lobbying the Recording Academy for more than a decade to create a category recognizing the distinct musical voices that hail from Hawai`i.

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