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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


January 2007


Grammy Award Nominees

This month, we’ll take a look (or in some cases, a second look, if you’ll permit me to quote myself from earlier reviews) at the five albums that have been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Hawaiian Music Album; this is the third year that the Recording Academy has offered an award in this category, part of the overall “Folk” field. You may recall that the winners in the two past years were both compilations of kī hō`alu (slack key) guitar music; there’s a good chance of that trend continuing, as three of the five nominees have “slack key” in the title, and two are compilations. In alphabetical order by artist, the nominees are:

Amy Hānaiali`i: “Generation Hawai`i (Hānaiali`i/Mountain Apple)

The latest CD from one of Hawai`i ’s most distinctive and respected voices represents a new starting point, and comes at a transitional time in her life. Much of the credit goes to her producer, songwriter Michael Ruff, but Amy’s own “voice” permeates this project; she is clearly in charge, as well as stepping to the fore as a composer, contributing to four selections. The disc features a gorgeous tribute to her famed grandmother, Jennie Napua Woodd, and takes us on an excursion through classics such as “Hilo Ē” and “Kalākaua,” compositions celebrating places on Maui, Hawai`i and Tahiti, and songs featuring special guests and players such as original Hapa member Keli`i Kaneali`i, long-time guitarist Chino Montero, in-demand steel guitarist Bobby Ingano, drummer Tris Imboden (from the band Chicago), local multi-instrumentalist Kirby Keough, and jazz sax man Ernie Watts, as well as producer Ruff. This album is one of the biggest hits of the year in Hawaiian music, and I hinted a few months back that it should garner a second Grammy nomination for Hānaiali`i.

Ledward Ka`apana: “Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar”(Rhythm & Roots)

Fans of straight-ahead slack key guitar can revel in the joy of many releases in this genre during the past year, and foremost amongst them is the latest from one of the biggest names in the business, a legend who also received a Grammy nomination last year, for his previous album. As he has done many times in the past, Ka`apana has blended a mix of instrumental tracks with ones featuring his falsetto vocals. Familiar standards such as “Kaulana Nā Pua,” Hawai`i Aloha” and “Fireman’s Hula” are joined by more recent compositions. A couple tracks of note include an instrumental version of the Peter, Paul & Mary hit, “Lemon Tree,” and a live cut of his popular show-stopper, “12th Street Rag.”

Henry Kapono: “The Wild Hawaiian”(Eclectic)

This is Kapono’s rock album, his “wild” side. It’s not the smooth sunset-and-surf ‘70s sound of C+K; it’s not the tourist-friendly “Home in the Islands ” vibe. This is an original sound, with the power and edginess of kick-a** rock flavored with a little of his feel-good seasoning. And it is most assuredly a Hawaiian album. In addition to original compositions, he also respectfully rips through Aunty Edith Kanaka`ole’s “E Hō Mai,” Queen Lili`uokalani’s “Ke Aloha O Ka Haku (Queen’s Prayer),” and versions of “Hi`ilawe,” “He`eia,” and “Hilo Hanakahi.” Traditionalists will not enjoy this album. People who want to revisit the old C+K stuff will have a hard time with it. It will resonate most with listeners who enjoy hearing what a superstar of Hawaiian music can do when following a new muse, one that cuts a fresh path to keep the music new and vibrant.

Various Artists: “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings” (Rhythm & Roots)

History may be favoring this album (and the next), and although there has been an uproar in the camps of those who know the veins of Hawaiian music extend well beyond slack key, this album is an excellent representation of the guitar’s possibilities, with an emphasis on newer artists and directions. From producer Milton Lau’s label (with crisp engineering by his musician son, Chris), the “legends” are represented by Ledward Ka`apana (another nomination for him), along with Dennis Kamakahi, who shares a tune with his son, David. Newer artists with high recognition factors here include Makana, Paul Togioka, Mike Ka`awa, 15-year-old Danny Carvalho, Glen Smith (of Ho`okena) and Bobby Moderow (of Maunalua.) Knowledgeable fans of the style will likely know the rest of the performers: David “Kawika” Kahiapo, Dwight Kanae, Kevin & Ikaika Brown, Albert Ka`ai, and Tahiti ’s Florent Atem. Also on the disc, Milton Lau takes a track for himself, and pop superstar (and North Shore resident) Jack Johnson contributes one – as the one artist whose name may bring this album to a wider circle.

Various Artists: “Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar – Live from Maui (Daniel Ho Creations)

This is the one that has the most weight behind it, in that it is the follow-up to last year’s winner. It is the second disc of live highlights from the weekly Kapalua Ritz-Carlton concerts that have been presented by George Kahumoku, Jr., for a number of years. Uncle George plays, as does his son Keoki, and several of the biggest names in the field: Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi, Ledward Ka`apana (he’s everywhere!), and Ozzie Kotani. Producer Daniel Ho makes a return appearance, as do Da `Ukulele Boys (Peter deAquino and Garrett Probst); another `ukulele performance comes from falsetto rising-star Richard Ho`opi`i, and Bobby Ingano represents steel guitar players.

The 49th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will take place on February 11, 2007. Your humble reviewer, in the spirit of full disclosure, feels obligated to reveal that he is a voting member of the Recording Academy. He is also one of the `ohana of hosts on the Hawai`i Radio Connection” programs, who have collectively chosen their top ten list of the best Hawaiian music releases of 2006.

They are:

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

9) Kapena: “Collection, vol. 3”

8) Keali`i Reichel: “Maluhia”

7) Brother Noland: “Mystical Fish”

*6) John Keawe: “Beautiful Hula Dancer”

*5) Amy Hānaiali`i: “Generation Hawai`i"

*4) Barefoot Natives: “Barefoot Natives”

*3) Aaron J. Salā: “Ka `Upu Aloha”

2) Nā Palapalai: “Ka Pua Hae Hawai`i"

*1) Kama: “Kamakolu”

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