Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Nāpua Greig: “Pihana” (Pihana Prod.)
Daughter of singer Hulu Lindsey, this is a strong debut album from this kumu hula from Maui, whose halau has been in recent Merrie Monarch competitions. She comes from an acclaimed hula lineage, having studied under Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla and Johnny Lum Ho, and a traditional vibe is the foundation for this collection of songs (sadly, lacking any composer credits.) Weldon Kekauoha shares vocals on the album’s only song in English, “Blue Lei,” Mom joins in on the fun in “None Hula” (“none” translating as “nagging”), while other guest musicians include Keao Costa (of Nā Palapalai) and Kale Hannahs (from `Ale`a) on bass, Chino Montero on guitar and `ukulele, Bryan Tolentino also on `ukulele, Aaron J. Salā at the piano, steel guitarist Casey Olsen, and producer Dave Tucciarone adding some guitar. (Keali`i Reichel wrote liner notes, Randy Jay Braun did the photography, and I suspect that it’s her daughters who are popping in, uncredited, at the end of one song.)
The eleven tracks are all winners, most in `olelo Hawai`i, and ranging from sweet nahenahe ballads to lively hula numbers, some evocative of old Hawai`i, while others have a more modern feel; some chanting is included at the end as well. Greig is not a particularly familiar name in the Hawaiian music community yet, but this disc is destined to make her so. It’s not every debut that is this flawless, this focused, but “Pihana” (which means “fulfilled”) is good enough that it ought to draw the attention of Hōkū voters next year. Her kumu taught her to never “make (them) shame” – this album should eliminate any fears of that happening.
This Honolulu resident (1995 Punahou grad) left the Islands a few years back to study law in New York, after getting a degree in Classical Guitar in California. While there, he continued to pursue his original music, playing solo as well as with friend Andy Wang (administrator of the popular Hawaiian music discussion forum TaroPatch.net) and others, then released his first album, “When Home Is Far Away” (reviewed here in May 2005.) Leong has studied with Hapa’s Barry Flanagan and Maunalua’s Bobby Moderow, and recently returned to O`ahu to practice law and to keep his music going, which he does with this new release.
While the first disc was all solo guitar with a little slack key influence, this album is much more Hawaiian - in feel, in composition, and in performance. Getting help from Hapa’s Nathan Aweau (mostly on bass, but also adding percussion and piano), as well as the afore-mentioned Wang (on a track they co-wrote), and steel guitarist Trever Asam, the album is a collection of thirteen original instrumentals. Leong also picks up the `ukulele for some tunes, which include gentle pieces in a similar style to his earlier release (“Sunday” being a particularly sweet one), but there are some livelier cuts on here as well. The opening track, “Gratitude,” would not be out of place on a Hapa album, with its high-energy drive.
Leong and his wife arrived in New York City only a couple of weeks before 9/11/01, and returned to Honolulu just a couple months after the five-year anniversary of that dark day. One of the tracks, “Five Years,” was composed on that anniversary. As an attorney in Honolulu now, Leong is specializing in labor and employment law, but also has expertise in music intellectual property concerns, and he often shares his knowledge as an independent artist in a blog at his website.
It’s been far too long since Sistah Robi has been back in the studio, so it’s a real joy to hear her teaming up with Sean Na`auao for this new collection. Parts of the album hearken back to a sound from a few years ago, as a couple of the tracks feature mostly synth-based Island Rhythms-style backing, but with voices as pleasing as these two have, that doesn’t hurt the overall album at all.
Standout cuts include a new take on “Hi`ilawe,” the beautiful (while politically powerful) “Mele O Kaho`olawe,” a lively spin of the traditional “Ka Manu” (with its perfect blend of harmonies), and the fun of “`Anapau.” Robi’s sister Ku contributes a gorgeous love song called “Nā Pali Alo Lua,” and there is a nice medley of “Hula Lady” with “ Honolulu, I Am Coming Back Again.” The album does end rather weakly, however, with a recreation of Roberta Flack’s classic duet with Donny Hathaway, “Where Is The Love,” and a hidden track of Kenny Rogers’s “We’ve Got Tonight” – which probably should have stayed hidden, as the song’s Jawaiian vibe just doesn’t hold together too well.
Upcoming area concerts ---
* JAKE SHIMABUKURO at Kentwood Performing Arts Center, Oct. 11; at the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton, Oct. 12; and at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, Oct. 13
* HERB OHTA, JR. & NATHAN AWEAU at The Triple Door in Seattle, Nov. 6 (celebrating a new album release)
* Keep your eyes open for a new series of Hawaiian Aloha concerts coming in 2008, featuring some of the biggest names in slack key guitar and `ukulele.
JAKE SHIMABUKURO also has two new releases this month, a mini-album entitled “My Life,” along with the domestic release of his soundtrack for “Hula Girls” (which was shown at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this year.) Meanwhile, his brother BRUCE is stretching out into the singer-songwriter realm with his new album, “Bits & Pieces.” Each brother appears on the other’s new recordings.
Ten years on, the IZ phenomenon continues. Not only does his latest release, the orchestrated “Wonderful World,” show up on Billboard magazine’s World Music and Top Independent Album charts, but it even made an appearance on their big Top 200 Album list for a while, peaking at number 44 on the July 14 tally.
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