Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
`Ale`a has been on quite a ride during their seven years of existence; huge success with their debut CD (“Take Me Home”) in 2000, including four Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards, followed by the departure of Kala`i Stern; then a somewhat disappointing follow-up album (“Origins/Kinohi”) two years later.
Listening to their latest, however, I was struck by the maturity and growth in their sound. In fact, I thought “maturity and growth” would be the key descriptives in my review. Then, I read the press release that accompanied the disc: “reflects the maturity and growth this trio has gained over the years.” Were these guys reading my mind? Or is it just a highly accurate way to describe this album? The group even translates kaulupono as “to grow in a way that is both progressive and still respectful to those who have paved the way before us.”
This is certainly their strongest album – the vocals are clean, harmonies are tight, instrumentation is full, arrangements and compositions are strong. In addition to some of the best writing ever from the band members, other highlights include a remake of Dennis Kamakahi’s “E Kiss Kāua” (with Ryan “Gonzo” Gonzalez’ island-style…banjo?), a lively “Halalū” (written by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett), “He Mele No Ka Pipi Palupalu” with all its kaona, and a great instrumental medley of “Ka Ua Loku / Hanohano Hanalei.”
Special guests making vocal appearances include Keali`i Reichel on “Ka Lehua Pūnono” (co-written by band member Chad Takatsugi and lyricist Kalikolīhau Hannahs) and “she’s still got it” classic singer Nina Keali`iwahamana, putting a shine on the “Hapa Haole Medley” of “Hawaiian Souvenirs / Straight From Hawai`i To You / Hawai`i Calls.” Young slack-key star Makana helps out on the traditional “Hula O Makee.”
The band’s selection of a few non-island covers provide the weakest points on the disc, as they don’t put any particularly new flavors into the Eagles’ hit “The Best Of My Love” or Garth Brooks’ “She’s Every Woman”; yet when I say ‘weakest,’ they are still done well.
“Kaulupono” is an album that will find its way onto a lot of holiday wish-lists this year.
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