Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
The Grammy nominations were announced in December, which means it’s time for me to recap the five nominees for the Best Hawaiian Music Album award (it also means it’s time for a holiday gift to myself, as I get to quote from my previously-published Northwest Hawai`i Times reviews of some of these discs; the full reviews are available at our website, and the month they were published is noted with each title). The winner will be announced at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards on February 8. (In the case of various-artist compilations, the award goes to the album’s producers.) The nominees, in the order listed by the Recording Academy, are:
Last year, these two former O`ahu residents teamed up to present Carrere’s lullaby and childhood-revisiting album, “Hawaiiana,” which also received a Grammy nomination. On this album, Ho shares vocal duties on a collection of eleven original tunes (two of which are instrumentals). Ho’s singing takes the lead most often, but this time out it will be harder to find fault with Carrere’s work. Her voice blends wonderfully with her old 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! 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 – lyricist, scholar and haku mele Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman.
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. Remember the “Romance” albums issued within recent years by The Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawai`i? 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 and is now Amy’s manager. 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. The arrangements are lush and warm sometimes, while being lively and energizing when called for.
Recorded primarily at a show at Seattle’s Triple Door in April 2007, this is one of those “snapshot in time” albums, capturing a couple of Hawai`i's top guitarists in fine form; their interactions with each other, as well as the enthusiastic audience, are part of what makes this album a joy to listen to. While Kaapana is unquestionably the “name” in this duo, Kaawa has been steadily pursuing his music and honing his craft before audiences and alongside his peers for many years now, and is considered a master of the 12-string guitar. Both of them shine here as individual players as well as collectively, and Kaapana also pulls out his `ukulele for a couple of numbers.
I’ve been describing this CD as the least-known and most under-rated of the set. These father and son producer/musicians have again assembled a wonderful team of players who take the guitar in just about every possible direction that can still squeeze into the slack key tent. You’ll recognize many of the performers, such as Led Kaapana, Nathan Aweau and Makana. If you really follow Hawaiian music, you’ll also spot folks like Maunalua’s Bobby Moderow, rising stars like Pali Kaaihue, Paul Togioka, Stephen Inglis, Keale, and many more. Not a bad track in the bunch, a lot of original compositions by the artists, and some performances will leave you with your mouth hanging wide open.
The fourth compilation of live recordings from the weekly Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar concert series held on Maui, this is the album that will draw attention, as its three predecessors each took home the Grammy. As with the earlier releases, the album stretches a little beyond a strict “slack key guitar” definition; this time, artists such as `ukulele star Herb Ohta, Jr., famed harmonica player Norton Buffalo, steel guitarist Bobby Ingano and falsetto singer Richard Ho`opi`i make appearances throughout. But the guitar is still the star, and in the hands of top artists, this time including Dennis Kamakahi, Owana Salazar, Sonny Lim, series creator/host George Kahumoku, Jr., and his son Keoki – the lucky charm who has appeared on every Hawaiian Grammy-winning album to date.
As before, I add my annual disclaimer that I am a member of the Recording Academy and a Grammy voter. I also get to pick my favorite Hawaiian CDs at the end of each year, as part of the hosting `ohana on the “Hawai`i Radio Connection” shows on KBCS-FM91.3 and KXPA-AM 1540, so here’s my 2008 list:
Various Artists: 50 Greatest Songs of Hawai`i
Howard Ai: Kaleihulumamo
Ledward Kaapana & Mike Kaawa: Force of Nature
Brothers Cazimero: Destiny
Holunape: Āhea? `Ānō!
John Keawe: Hawai`i Island … is My Home
Various Artists: Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar
Amy Hānaiali`i: `Aumākua
Herb Ohta, Jr. & Daniel Ho: 2 to 3 Feet - `Ukuleles in Paradise 3
Natalie Ai Kamauu: `I
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