Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
“Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar” (Daniel Ho Creations)
There’s something to be said for not messing with a successful formula. The first two compilations this label released, featuring performances taped in concert at the weekly slack key shows on Maui, took home the Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Music Album the past two years – so here’s volume three. (Though it won’t be labeled with a number – producer Ho is a bit superstitious about that, so you’ll just have to remember the titles: volume one is “Masters…,” and volume two is “Legends…”)
Following the same structure as the other albums, you’ll hear a fine blend of acclaimed masters alongside artists who are earning that title, as well as some newer faces on the scene. Names you’ll know include two of the Pahinui brothers, Cyril and Martin, as well as Led Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi, and the director of the performance series, George Kahumoku, Jr. George’s son, Keoki, is here as well – he’s a bit of a lucky charm, as he’s the only artist to have appeared on all of the three past Grammy winners.
Producer Ho brings a new song out for the disc, we get return appearances by falsetto master Richard Ho`opi`i, steel guitarist Bobby Ingano, and `ukulele players Peter deAquino and Garrett Probst (here in supporting roles, rather than as Da `Ukulele Boyz.) Owana Salazar shows up as the first female artist on one of these releases, and young Sterling Seaton (who began as a stagehand and engineer at these concerts) makes his recording debut with support from some of the other musicians.
Will this collection pull off a “hat trick” by winning another Grammy? We’ll find out in the spring – but until then, fans of Hawaiian music will not be disappointed by hearing more of these concert moments. (Incidentally, while the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua undergoes renovations, the Wednesday night shows have moved to the Napili Kai Beach Resort; information is at www.slackkey.com, (888) 669-3858.
Teaming up with the Hawai`i Island Visitors Bureau, Keoki Kahumoku has produced a marvelous showcase of the wide range of talent that the youngest island in the chain has to share. Starting with familiar performers such as kī hō`alu guitarist John Keawe, singer Darlene Ahuna and Kahumoku himself, we are also treated to a variety of Hawaiian music styles, opening with a gorgeous harmonic Polynesian chant performed by Kekuhi Kanahele Kealiikanakaoleohaililani, her husband (and the chant’s composer) Taupōuri Tangarō, and their students from Hawai`i Community College.
All of these artists are individuals who deserve wider exposure, which is a major benefit of this disc; Kahumoku could easily have gone with established artists throughout the project, but he has found a blend of “big names,” new faces, and artists whose names are known, but whose recorded output is small. Some of the less-well-known performers include falsetto singer Kevin Kealoha, kumu hula Keoni Jenny, guitarists Dana Leilehua Yuen and Marcus Wong Yuen, and the jazz-influenced Daniel K. Akaka, Jr. (son of the junior Senator from Hawai`i.)
A real treat, however, comes in hearing artists who don’t have much material available in the record stores at present, but who have contributed greatly to the world of Hawaiian music. Among the artists who fit this description are two members of the acclaimed Lim Family, matriarch Mary Ann Lim with son Elmer “Sonny” Lim, Jr. (who was also the disc’s engineer, as well as providing additional guitar, bass and steel guitar parts throughout), and the not-recorded-nearly-enough “Songbird of Miloli`i,” Diana Aki (best known for her work with Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai`i, Dennis Pavao, Israel Kamakawiwo`ole, and George Kahumoku, Jr.) Hearing her close out the CD with the traditional “Ka Lei E” is reason enough to own this album.
Another very popular series (one that has also garnered a few Hōkū Awards) is the Hula Records releases featuring songs performed, in studio settings, by winners of the annual falsetto contests held on four Hawaiian Islands. This latest volume, released to coincide with this year’s festivals, features two of the winners from 2006: Elijah Isaac (Kaua`i) and Kalani Benanua ( Maui.) Each artist performs four songs, accompanying themselves on `ukulele, along with top-notch musicians in their backup bands – folks like Baba Alimoot, Dwight Kanae and Casey Olsen.
Different this year, however, is the inclusion of one track from each of four 2006 Falsetto Hall of Fame inductees, three of whom are no longer with us: Kahauanu Lake, Benny Kalama, Dennis Pavao and John Piilani Watkins – all great voices with distinct styles, giving us a historical context for the art of leo ki`e ki`e.
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