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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


October 2006


New Releases

Amy Hānaiali`i: “Generation Hawai`i (Hānaiali`i/Mountain Apple)

The latest CD from one of Hawai`i’s most distinctive and respected voices represents a new starting point for her, and comes at a transitional time in her life – with her first child (Madeline), a new partner in life (John Austin), and the passing of her beloved tutu (famed performer Jennie Napua Woodd.) While much credit should be given to her renowned pop-music producer, songwriter Michael Ruff – a Kaua`i resident who has worked with Chaka Khan, Lionel Ritchie, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole and many others – Amy’s own “voice” permeates this project; she is clearly in charge, as well as stepping to the fore as a composer, contributing to four selections.

The disc opens with a gorgeous tribute to grandmother Napua (Ruff composed the melody to accompany Amy’s lyrics, as translated by Kaumakaiwa Kanaka`ole), then takes us on an excursion through classics such as “Hilo Ē” and “Kalākaua,” compositions celebrating places on Maui, Hawai`i and Tahiti, and songs featuring special guests and players such as original Hapa member Keli`i Kaneali`i, long-time guitarist Chino Montero, in-demand steel guitarist Bobby Ingano, drummer Tris Imboden (from the band Chicago), local multi-instrumentalist Kirby Keough, and jazz sax man Ernie Watts (who adds a sultry touch to the steamy original “In Hilo Town”), as well as producer Ruff; kumu hula Kimo Alama Keaulana provides a translation on “`O Waipā Ke Mālama Mau Ai,” one of the album’s most powerful selections, due to the stunning duet vocals with Kaneali`i.

This album is destined to be one of the biggest hits of the year in Hawaiian music, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it garners the second Grammy nomination for Hānaiali`i (who notes that, as she was hapai during the recording sessions, baby Madeline was “kicking along” the entire time…and was born the following month.)

Jake Shimabukuro: “Gently Weeps” (Hitchhike/Sony Music)

Released in different form in Japan earlier this year, the American version of this disc is designed to satisfy fans who have been clamoring to hear more of this talented `ukulele virtuoso’s unadorned solo playing, without any studio tricks, special effects or other musicians around him. Pure naked `ukulele, much as he has been presenting on his most recent tours.

And fans will be thrilled. Not only does the album open with the track suggested by the title (George Harrison’s Beatles-era “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which has been key to exposing Jake to a larger audience, due to a video clip widely circulating on the internet), but there are a dozen solo tracks in total. He revisits several original compositions from past albums in creative new arrangements and adds in a couple of new ones, as well as beautifully imitating the koto on the Japanese folk tune “Sakura,” creating a captivating version of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” (which I’ve witnessed stun an audience into silence - and tears - when performed live), and roaring through Chick Corea’s fusion jazz hit “Spain.” He even takes on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which will just add to his constantly being referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix” of his instrument (even though he plays the anthem in a far less flamboyant fashion.)

The Japanese release featured fewer solo tracks, interspersed with band recordings; on the US version, the band tracks are relegated to the status of “bonus” material, so as not to disrupt the flow of the solo performances – again, a concession to the desires of Am eric an fans, and a wise decision. There are five band selections, including three compositions for film and television, which is a direction Shimabukuro has noted he wants to take more often. Six cuts are not on the Japanese album, but Japan also got five songs not in the US package, so “completists” will want to track the import down.

~~~ New books of interest to Hawaiian music fans ~~~

The long-awaited “pictorial history” of Israel Kamakwiwo`ole, “IZ: Voice of the People” (Bess Press) is now available. The coffee-table book is the first full and authorized biography of the beloved late singer, and is filled with more than 200 photos of Bruddah IZ, from childhood to final days, through his time as a member of the Mākaha Sons of Ni`ihau into his solo career, and of the memorial services and ceremonies that followed his passing. The photos came from dozens of sources, ranging from professional portraiture to previously-unpublished family photos provided by his widow, Marlene (who wrote the book’s foreword.) Author Rick Carroll is a former Hawai`i resident who has written a number of books about the Islands , including the eight-volume “Best Spooky Tales” series. Since starting on the book six years ago, he interviewed uncountable people involved in some fashion with IZ’s life and career, including the late Moe Keale, who passed away only days after talking with Carroll. The book features hundreds of excerpts from these interviews, as sidebar stories that reveal much of the famed singer’s influences and inspirations. (Author Carroll is scheduled to appear in Seattle on a promotional tour early this month, and he will be signing books at the Hawai`i General Store on Tuesday, October 10 at 5pm.)

Another big man of the Island music scene is concert promoter and radio star Tom Moffatt, who has recently issued his own large-sized book of memoirs, “The Showman of the Pacific” (Watermark Publishing), co-authored with Jerry Hopkins. This is a book filled with “Uncle” Tom’s personal recollections of the changing musical scene over half a decade, with stories and private photos (along with reproductions of concert posters and tickets) of touring celebrities and local performers, along with tales of how the broadcasting and show businesses have evolved since the early 1950s.

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