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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


July 2006


New Releases


Willie K and Eric Gilliom: “Barefoot Natives” (Barefoot Natives/Mountain Apple)

Destined to be one of the strongest albums of the year, the first release from this Island superduo has already made its mark on Billboard’s World Music charts. Each half of this team is a successful recording artist, and they share a connection to Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom – Eric’s sister and Willie’s sometime musical partner.

The CD is tightly produced with a pop sensibility, while the songs are musical toes dipping into several pools. Hawaiian classics are represented by “Ahe Lau Makani,” “Ahulili” and “Napua Lei Ilima,” and Olomana’s emotional standard, “Ku`u Home O Kahalu`u” gets a gorgeous nine-and-a-half minute respectful treatment, combined with an uncredited “Ku`u Lei Awapuhi.”

There are a few pop covers on the disc, including George Harrison’s Beatle tune, “Something,” and Loggins & Messina’s “Watching the River Run.” The Tahitian traditional “Fa Mai Ra Oe” is the first “single” from the album (is that an outdated concept these days?), and there are also a handful of original compositions from each of them – more from Mr. Kahaialii than Mr. Gilliom, though Eric’s “Back to Honopo” is more stripped down than his previous solo recording.

It is always a risk to mix too many different styles on an album, particularly in the case of a debut disc, but the career experiences of these two artists have provided them with enough guidance to make this CD a great launch into the summer music season; here’s hoping their Mainland touring brings them to Seattle before year’s end.

Kama : “Kamakolu” (Makani)

This album has the not-so-subtle Roman numeral “III” prominently displayed on its cover, for multiple reasons – prime amongst them being that this is the group’s third album as well as their first as a trio; founding guitarists Eric Lee and Brian Mersberg have added acoustic bassist Danny Naipo.

What will most likely draw the attention of music fans to this album, however, is that it is their first all-Hawaiian outing. That, combined with the addition of Naipo, is now getting this group mentioned in the same breath as Hōkū winners such as Ho`okena, Holunape and `Ale`a.

The CD is filled with original compositions, each strong enough to stand alongside the well-researched classics (which means that there are several opportunities to add new songs to the repertoire of Hawaiian-music players.)

I’m a sucker for special treatments of songs, and the band has done one for the wedding standard, “E Maliu Mai.” The track opens with a brief narrative recording of composer Irmgard Farden `Āluli and incorporates an English-language interpretation by her daughter, I. Mihana `Āluli Souza.

Other guest performers include pianist (and co-engineer) Kit Ebersbach, Casey Olsen on dobro and steel guitar, the Galliard String Quartet, and Mersberg’s kumu hula, Kaha`i Topolinski, chanting.

Steven Espaniola: “Ho`omaka” (Common Ground)

Espaniola is one of the hidden treasures of the Bay Area’s slack-key scene, so the release of his debut CD has been long anticipated. Originally from Aliamanu, he is a quadruple-threat; not only proficient on guitar, `ukulele and acoustic bass, but also as a falsetto singer. The album consists primarily of his clean, straight-ahead interpretations of beloved classics (“I Kona,” “Kalama`ula,” “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” and five others), but also includes two strong original compositions: a friendly mele named after his wife, “Hokulani,” and a gently galloping slack-key instrumental inspired by rice cooking, titled “Calroselani Slack.”

“Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with Danny Kaleikini” (Mahalo)

Another classic piece of Hawai`i ’s musical history is available again with this CD reissue of an album recorded live in 1962. Although less than half-an-hour long, and with limited liner notes, this recording is valuable for the moment-in-time performances captured within, featuring consummate entertainer Kaleikini, `ukulele legend Eddie Bush, singer Lani Castino, and many other (sadly uncredited) musicians and dancers.

Kamehameha Alumni Glee Club: “Through the Years” (Hula)

When it comes to issuing compilations of long-unavailable material from the vast archives of Hawaiian musical history, Hula Records is known for extensive research, reflected in detailed liner notes. Continuing that tradition is this collection of highlights from the Glee Club’s albums, specifically ones issued in 1957, 1964 and 1972 (cleaned up with digital technology). While the notes tell us the story of the choir’s formation, history of directors, and conditions of the recording sessions, the selections themselves reflect changing circumstances – from unaccompanied a cappella vocals to fully orchestrated arrangements.

~~~Music Tidbits~~~

Coming to the area in the near future:

  • Bill Tapia, I. Mihana, Brittni Paiva, Bobo Miles, Hema Pa `a, Charlie Recaido, Michelle Kiba and more: workshops and concerts in Mt. Vernon , Kirkland (tentative at press time) and Kalama, August 17-20;
  • Polynesian Festival: Beaverton (OR) Uwajimaya, August 19-20.

`Ukulele masters Herb Ohta, Jr. and Daniel Ho are planning area workshops based on their newly-published instructional guide, “Discovering the `Ukulele.” Following workshops and a concert in Eugene , they will teach at Seattle ’s Dusty Strings on Sunday, October 29; concert plans for that evening are still being worked out.

By the time you read this:

  • Volume 2 in the “50 Greatest Hawai`i Music Albums” should be out;
  • Another TV commercial will feature IZ’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” – this time for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal.

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