Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Amy Hānaiali`i: “Aumākua” (Ua/Concord)
For listeners who have followed Amy’s career over the past dozen years or so, you have noticed that this powerful singer not only belts out Hawaiian songs, but also has an affinity for classic selections and an ability to personalize a cover tune. This newest album, her ninth, brings together many of the musical streams she’s been riding for some time. There are pieces which she co-wrote, and a couple Hawaiian standards (such as “Ka Makani Kā`ili Aloha” and the rarely-recorded `olelo Hawai`i lyrics to Kui Lee’s “I’ll Remember You,” here known as “He Mana`o Au”), but it’s when she moves into the jazz-inflected worlds that this disc shines as one of her brightest projects.
Remember the “Romance” albums issued within recent years by The Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawai`i? (Sure you do – I reviewed ‘em in this space back in the November issues of the past two years, which you can read again at the Northwest Hawai`i Times website…) Amy contributed to the first volume, and it sparked her connection with Catingub and co-producer Allen Sviridoff, former manager for Rosemary Clooney, who came out of retirement to start working with Catingub and is now Amy’s manager. Sviridoff is the one who suggested she record the old Creedence Clearwater Revival tune, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?,” as rain is Amy’s family’s `aumākua – which then gives this album its overarching theme – that of the guardian, the protective spirit.
Each song is linked somehow to `aumākua, and the individual-song liner notes tell the stories. Catingub’s arrangements surround the vocals, as well as performances by her top-of-the-line band, which features guitarist Jeff Peterson, Sean Na`auao and Stephen Jones sharing bass duties, ‘Chino’ Montero on `ukulele, drummer Darryl Pellegrini, and Catingub himself on piano and sax. The arrangements are lush and warm sometimes, while being lively and energizing when called for.
Several songs get Amy and Matt’s unique takes, besides the ones already mentioned. Others include Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” familiar standards such as “When You Wish Upon A Star” (with Jeff Peterson on solo guitar), “I Remember You” (the Johnny Mercer tune, not to be confused with Kui Lee’s composition, which I already noted is sung here in Hawaiian), “Blue Moon” (with Jeff Peterson playing solo `ukulele), “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” (with at least one local substitution in the lyrics), and a song closely associated with the late Israel Kamakawiwo`ole, “In This Life.” She also revisits her own composition to honor her grandmother, “Napua.”
Last year, these two former O`ahu residents (now living in California) teamed up to present Carrere’s lullaby and childhood-revisiting album, “Hawaiiana,” which received a Grammy nomination. That scared a lot of people, who feared that Carrere would receive the award based on name recognition alone (due to her acting career), and not for her performances on the album (which was reviewed here in February of this year). On that disc, Ho’s performances were primarily as instrumentalist on guitar and `ukulele.
But on this album, Ho shares vocal duties on a collection of eleven original tunes (two of which are instrumentals). Despite the name placement, Ho’s singing takes the lead most often, but this time out it will be harder to find fault with Carrere’s work, should another Grammy nod be given. Her voice blends wonderfully with her old school-days (and “Brown Bags To Stardom”) companion, and the lyrics are almost all in Hawaiian. The songs are by turns beautiful and fun, ranging from love songs to people and places, to a piece reflective of their Catholic upbringing, a hula number with a challenging time signature, and songs about that most Hawaiian of topics – good food! The disc opens with a tribute to SPAM, and also includes new lyrics to one of Ho’s classics, “Pineapple Mango” (too bad about the toast…it’s burnt!)
While the CD is credited just to the two artists, there is a third expat individual whose contributions make this album as strong as it is – scholar and haku mele Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman. Dr. Stillman is a highly-acclaimed professor at the University of Michigan, who has been writing about her research into hula and Hawaiian music for more than thirty years, and it was a conversation with Ho that inspired her to compose lyrics and poetry for him to set to music. In her liner notes, she called it “a creative alternative to the occasionally maddening exactitude of scholarly writing.” Based on the magnificent results here, let’s hope she finds more time for that “alternative” outlet.
Led Kaapana & Mike Kaawa return to The Triple Door in downtown Seattle (site of the primary recording for their “Force of Nature” CD, back in April 2007) on November 11.
Brook Adams , `ukulele player from Eugene, OR, presents two workshops at Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood on November 15 – one titled “Beatles for Beginner Ukesters” and one called “Rock-A-Lele.” More information at (206) 634-1662 or www.dustystrings.com.
Lastly, your humble music reviewer will be teaming up with SUPA’s Rod Higuchi on January 18, 2009, to teach two workshops at Dusty Strings - `Ukulele for Absolute Beginners and Basic Hawaiian Songs for `Ukulele. More details will be available from the folks at Dusty Strings in the weeks to come.
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