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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


February 2007


Grammy Award Nominees

Lono: “Old Style III: Moloka`i Originals”

Lono is an artist who has gone in search of his roots, and found a vein of gold. After a Maui-centric career playing island-style pop and cover tunes (including five albums and a “day job” as a lifeguard), a visit with old friends inspired him to explore his own history and connections to more traditional Hawaiian music. In 2004, his first “Old Style” release signaled the direction he would take, as he began to record and perform exclusively what he termed “the folk music of Hawai`i.”

While all of his albums have featured Lono on almost all instruments and vocals, this third volume showcases his songwriting strengths as well (he’s also the only performer throughout, on guitar, `ukulele, bass, mandolin and percussion.) A wonderful mix of Hawaiian and English lyrics, along with instrumentals, most of the numbers also have a connection to the friendly island of Moloka`i, where several members of his family reside, and where Lono now makes his base of operations at the homestead of Ho`olehua.

Having shown his respect and honor for Hawaiian music and traditions of the past, Lono is an excellent representative of Hawaiian music’s future.

Keola Beamer: “Ka Hikina O Ka Hau: The Coming of the Snow”

As one of the acclaimed masters of Hawaiian music, from the pop sounds of the ‘70s “renaissance,” through his own family’s multi-generational musical history, to being one of the best-known proponents of kī hō’alu guitar, leave it to Keola Beamer to open up another set of doors with his latest disc. Using slack key technique as a starting point, he explores classical and world music forms throughout.

Short romantic-style classical pieces by composers such as Erik Satie (whose “Gymnopedies” long ago entered the guitar repertoire) and Maurice Ravel are joined by more experimental compositions by Igor Stravinsky, Alberto Ginastera and nuevo tango master Astor Piazzolla; other world-music forms are represented in traditional Spanish and Brazilian numbers.

In addition, there are a few winter-themed selections (including one that incorporates the seasonal standard “Little Drummer Boy”); successful new-age pianist, fellow slack key musician, Dancing Cat Records founder and old friend George Winston also makes a couple of appearances, and many of the works feature arrangements by acclaimed Irish guitarist Daniel O’Donoghue.

This is an album that crosses so many boundaries, record stores will be challenged to know where it should be stocked, as it will please the ears of Hawaiian, classical and new-age fans.

(Keola Beamer will be touring in the area in the spring, for performances with John Keawe, April 21 in Bremerton, then with Native American flute player R. Carlos Nakai in Olympia and Kirkland, May 4 and 5.)

Here are a few Hawaiian albums released in 2006 that I didn’t review in these pages, but should not be ignored:

Various Artists: “Mea Makamae – Hawaiian Treaures”

Another sampling from the vaults (1990-2004) of the label that launched some of the greats of Hawaiian music, including classic tracks from Mākaha Sons, `Ale`a, IZ and more.

Nathan Aweau: “ Hawai`i Classic Series, vol. 2: Hula”

The second in a proposed four-volume series, featuring the Hōkū-winning multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/member of Hapa, with self-produced solo performances of top-tier songs.

Keali`i Blaisdell: “Keeping It Traditional”

Getting help from his uncle (third cousin, actually) Cyril Pahinui, Blaisdell springs forth with an album of strong originals, marking his return to the scene after an absence of several years – another volume is scheduled to come out by the summer.

Brother Noland: “Mystical Fish”

One of the kings of the Jawaiian sound, still in fine form with his intelligent and friendly vibe, returning to show the youngsters how it’s done. Big name, big label, big promotion … and a great collection of this style.

Taimane Gardner: “Loco Princess”

Yet another young `ukulele phenomenon, this album (originally created for the Japanese market) is a little too over-produced for my tastes, and hides her excellent playing too deeply in the mix – but it’s all we have from her to date, and is better than nothing; here’s hoping this “diamond” gets to shine more on her next outing.

Bobby Ingano: “Steel Reflections”

Reissuing a CD from 1998 (and long unavailable), Ingano is one of the most in-demand steel guitar players on the scene – look through your albums released in the last couple years, and you’ll see his name all over them.

George Kahumoku, Jr.: “Nā `Ano `Ano: The Seeds”

Straight ahead slack key from one of the true masters, getting great acclaim for his ongoing series of weekly concerts on Maui , featuring every guitarist he can get to the stage.

Keahiwai: “Changing”

These two girls have set a high standard for sweet, rhythmic Island pop over the course of several releases, and as they grow, their songwriting gains maturity as well.

Nā Leo: “Where I Live There Are Rainbows”

While pursuing pop fame off-island, this enduring trio shows that their roots are not to be forgotten, in this compilation of “close to home” tunes.

Jeff Peterson: “Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of…”

Continuing Palm Records’ series of the most cleanly-recorded guitar albums available, Peterson (who was also involved in the first Grammy-winning project) is the latest to face the spotlight, bringing a pop sensibility to some of his material.

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