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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


February 2009


The Year in Review

The new year brings another opportunity to glance back, and here are my favorite Hawaiian CDs of 2008:

Various Artists: 50 Greatest Songs of Hawai`i

Following up on a project to identify the greatest albums of Hawai`i, Honolulu Magazine assembled a list focusing on specific songs rather than full albums. The sampler assembled to go along with the article does an honorable job with a tough task, blending classic and modern versions and even getting an instrumental into the mix. Songs include “Puamana, “ “Aloha `Oe,” “Nightbird,” “My Little Grass Shack,” “Ku`u Home O Kahalu`u” and “Sweet Leilani,” with performances by artists like Amy Hānaiali`i, Hapa, Emma Veary, Bing Crosby, Palani Vaughan, and the Brothers Cazimero.

Howard Ai: Kaleihulumamo

Ai is a respected kumu and musician, yet he’s not been one to grab the spotlight. Instead, he has allowed it to shine on the members of Hālau Hula Olana, most notably his daughter, Natalie. She and her husband appear on this recording, as do three sons. They are joined by a great band, but it is Howard’s voice that shines throughout this collection of personal favorites.

Ledward Kaapana & Mike Kaawa: Force of Nature

Recorded at Seattle’s Triple Door in April 2007, this is one of those “snapshot in time” albums, capturing a couple of Hawai`i's top guitarists in fine form. While Kaapana is unquestionably the superstar “name” in this duo, Kaawa has been steadily pursuing his music and honing his craft before audiences and alongside his peers for many years now, and is considered a master of the 12-string guitar.

The Brothers Cazimero: Destiny

To many, the Brothers can be described as either icons or dinosaurs, innovators or a lounge act. If you were to somehow discover them anew by just looking at their last two discs, you might find that they are now an act committed to high-quality arrangements of both classic and contemporary Hawaiian music. Their jazzy arranging style touches familiar songs, but it’s their compositional skills that shine on this album, in songs they have either written by themselves or in collaboration with others.

Holunape: Āhea? `Ānō!

With their connection to the Pacific Northwest, Holunape garners a lot of attention in this region. The trio recognizes their responsibilities to both honor the past and to perpetuate the music for future generations. The album title itself makes reference to the opening medley – starting with Alvin Isaacs’ question to a sweetheart, asking when they can be together, answered with a “let’s do it” present-day composition.

John Keawe: Hawai`i Island … is My Home

Issuing great slack key albums on his own Homestead label, from what most folks call the “Big Island,” Keawe is one of many who prefer to call it by the name “Hawai`i Island” – and the title track is a song that was originally his contribution to a compilation; he later asked Sonny Lim to add a steel guitar part, and it is a wonderful enhancement. All of the thirteen tracks are original compositions by Keawe, with one written using lyrics by an old friend who passed away in 2007, and two songs translated into Hawaiian by others.

Various Artists: Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

The fourth compilation of live recordings from the weekly slack key concert series on Maui, its three predecessors each took home a Grammy Award. As with the earlier releases, this album stretches a little beyond a strict “slack key guitar” definition; artists such as `ukulele star Herb Ohta, Jr., famed harmonica player Norton Buffalo, steel guitarist Bobby Ingano and falsetto singer Richard Ho`opi`i make appearances throughout. But the guitar is still the star in the hands of top artists, this time including Dennis Kamakahi, Owana Salazar, Sonny Lim, series creator/host George Kahumoku, Jr., and his son Keoki.

Amy Hānaiali`i: `Aumākua

This powerful singer not only belts out Hawaiian songs, but also has an affinity for classic selections and an ability to personalize a cover tune. This album brings together many of the musical streams she’s been riding for some time. There are pieces which she co-wrote, and a couple Hawaiian standards, but it’s when she moves into the jazz-inflected worlds that this disc shines as one of her brightest projects. Each song is linked somehow to `aumākua, and the liner notes tell the stories. The arrangements are lush and warm sometimes, while being lively and energizing when called for.

Herb Ohta, Jr. & Daniel Ho: 2 to 3 Feet - `Ukuleles in Paradise 3

First time out, it was to showcase Hawaiian songs in an `ukulele-duet format; the second volume gave these two expert instrumentalists the opportunity to bring more of their original compositions into the mix. Now that they have had a good amount of time in each other’s company, it comes through in the interplay on this CD. The album includes only Hawaiian song and two covers; the remaining eight instrumentals are pure Herb and Daniel, with the album having an over-arching theme of surf and sea. This should appeal to fans of the `ukulele, to lovers of Island music, and to those who appreciate great instrumental playing in general.

Natalie Ai Kamauu: `I

The former Miss Aloha Hula has an absolutely lovely voice, with the ability to belt a song out with power when called for, or to drop to a sensual breathiness, or have fun with a lively hula number. Her songwriting skills are a valued element to the album, and she is credited with composing (or co-composing) five selections here. One of the standouts is a sweet power-ballad based on the e.e. cummings poem, “I Carry Your Heart.”


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