Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Mike Kaawa: “Kanikapila – Live!” (Rhythm & Roots)
Over the years, I’ve heard many people bemoan that there are so few venues on O`ahu where they can gather to catch great Hawaiian musicians in a low-key setting, with a vibe much like backyard jam sessions of old. One that does remain, however, is on Sunday afternoons at Honey’s, now located in the Ko`olau Golf Club in Kāne`ohe. Since 2004, guitarist Mike Kaawa has been leading his Hawaiian Boy Band there, for weekly sessions lasting about four hours. The band includes guitarist Ocean Kaowili (who has been part of the Peter Moon Band), up-and-coming steel-guitar player (and falsetto yodeler) Paul Kim, and acclaimed bassist Analu Aina (who worked with Moe Keale and Israel Kamakawiwo`ole.)
Chris Lau (son of music promoter/producer Milton) has been recording a number of these sessions, and they have issued a collection of Kaawa and Company’s performances on this disc, a sampling of Hawaiian and Island-style classic songs: “Kalena Kai,” “Wahine Ilikea,” Hale`iwa Hula,” “Green Rose Hula,” “Keawaiki,” “Maui Girl” and “Mauna Loa,” just to name several. This disc puts you right in the center of the action, but unfortunately doesn’t include performances by any of the famed guests who regularly pop in for a song or two – especially `ukulele legend Eddie Kamae, who holds court during the weekly show and always comes up for a handful of tunes.
This is another of those albums that has earned the phrase “long-awaited debut” (isn’t it great to see so many of those?) In one form or another, the group has been around since the early 1990’s, but really came together when first cousins Glenn Mayeda, Jr. (bass) and Gary “Kalehua” Krug, Jr. (rhythm guitar) added Kamuela Kimokeo (lead guitar) to the lineup six years ago. It was their first-place finish in the 2006 Kā Hīmeni `Ana contest that really garnered them the attention they deserved, prior to this release, and all three of them shine as singers and composers, with a number of original works featured throughout the recording.
Among the guests helping out on a track or two are the afore-mentioned Paul Kim (see Mike Kaawa review just above), chanters Kaumakaiwa “Lopaka” Kanaka`ole and Snowbird Bento, the Opus 4 String Quartet (in an arrangement by Aaron Mahi), and the great Ledward Ka`apana – who has served as a mentor to all of the group’s members. Even ignoring Ka`apana’s contribution, comparisons to the distinctive Hui `Ohana sound are inevitable, as are similarities to other classic groups such as Kahauanu Lake Trio. Familiar classics include “Pauoa Liko Lehua,” “Kaula`ili,” “Sweet Moonlight” and a lively instrumental of “Riders In The Sky.”
From Maui comes another debut release, this time featuring a trio of wahine who blend past and present in an album that is a joy to hear. The group consists of Liz Morales (known for her former radio work as “Kopa`a Tita” on KPOA), surfing star Joni DeMello, and Joni’s mom, Bessie, who has been singing on Maui for many years. Guests include in-demand steel guitarist Bobby Ingano and pianist/vocalist/guitarist Ata Damasco. Standards such as “Pua Carnation,” “Ipo Lei Manu” and “Ahe Lau Makani” stand alongside self-professed Elvis-influenced numbers like “Drums Of The Islands” and “Crying In the Chapel,” and lesser-known works like “Ua Noho Au A Kupu” and “Kahului.” One original, Morales’ instrumental “KP Shuffle,” was written to honor `ukulele maker Ken Potts (who now has two songs by that name written to thank him; the first being by Rudy Aquino.)
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