Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Na Palapalai: “Ke’ala Beauty”
Did you like this trio’s first album, “Makani ‘Olu’olu”? Then you will be very pleased by their sophomore effort. The sound is the same – fine musicianship with incredibly tight harmonies, in a sweet falsetto style.
Only this time, you can sense how much growth the band has undergone since they took home four Na Hoku Hanohano awards back in 2002. It was clear from their recent Seattle performance that the trio has grown very comfortable in recent years (they’ve played together for some time, but have really gained focus in the past three years) – even if their stage presence was a touch ragged when they opened for the Cazimeros, their studio sound is polished.
Much credit is due producer Shawn Kekoa Pimental for a clean presentation, once again enhancing the refined harmonies with additional musicians Aaron Sala (piano) and Casey Olsen (steel guitar.) But the trio of Kehau Tamure (‘ukulele), Kuana Torres (guitar) and Keao Costa (bass) sing as if they have three voices emanating from a single mind. It’s often a challenge to figure out which voice is which, as they intertwine so smoothly (it’s a little easier after seeing them live, however, so when they come back, be sure not to miss them!)
Like the first CD, most of the selections are Hawaiian classics, including a “song of procreation” for King Kalakaua (“Ko Ma’i Ho’eu’eu”), a tribute to the four major islands (“Ka Mele O Ku’u Pu’uwai”), a kolohe hula mele (“Neki Hula”), and the celebration of two paniolo taking home awards from a rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming (“Waiomina.”) But like before, Tamure and Torres also provide stunning originals, some of which are destined to be covered by other bands in coming years. Standouts include the opening medley, celebrating Tamure’s home town of Hilo (“Mahalo E Hilo Hanakahi/Hilo E”), a marvelous musical remembrance of a moonlit night at Honaunau, South Kona (“ ‘O Ka Po”), filled with wonderful shifts between major and minor modes, and the sweet title track (“Ke’ala Beauty.”)
This band (who jokingly refer to themselves as “the ferns”) is a perfect representation of the stream of Hawaiian music that takes inspiration from the past and puts it into today’s terms; without trying to put too contemporary a spin on songs, they still have the ability to create an unmistakably singular sound. Look for this album to be a threat at the Hokus in May 2005. (Oh, and don’t miss the visual gag about lifting the sofa that carries on from the first album…)
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