Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Following on the heels of last year’s collaboration - which was one of my favorite Hawaiian albums of 2005 - this duo continues with a successful formula of crisp `ukulele performances. As before, each musician is panned to one stereo side, giving you the opportunity to hear the differences in their techniques, as well as their KoAloha instruments (Ohta plays a four-string, and Ho uses their newer six-string model), while still enjoying how they blend.
While album #1 featured all Island classics, this disc mixes in a few originals, such as Ohta’s “Ka`anapali Sunset” (from a 1999 TV commercial in Japan), Ho’s 1986 student work “Pineapple Mango” (later used for “Emme’s Island Moments” and by Nā Leo, as the melody for “Hawaiian Love”), and newer compositions. One of the highlights of the album comes when Ohta’s famous dad, `ukulele master Ohta-San, joins them for a new three-uke arrangement of his ‘70s hit, “A Song for Anna.”
Ohta and Ho are issuing an `ukulele instruction book this summer and are hoping to tour through this area in mid-September; I’m hoping this CD is just the next offering in a long and prolific partnership.
First, let me get my disappointment out of the way. I have long had a personal, music-geek fondness for liner notes. I want to know who plays what on every recording, when and where a session was committed to tape, who rode the levels, produced the track, took the photos, their zodiac signs and favorite foods . . . okay, maybe not that much detail.
It is one thing to leave a lot of information off a budget reissue or a release by unknown session players (though it would be nice for helping them to become known), but it is practically inexcusable in the case of an album full of such great performers as the ones featured here. We do know who performs on each song, yet we do not have any clues as to which of these tracks are new (if any) or of the circumstances behind what have to be some classic sessions included here.
And make no mistake, there are some magnificent performances - Nina Keali`iwahamana supported by Ohta-San and Lyle Ritz, recordings teaming musicians like Jerry Byrd and Byron Yasui, Sonny Lim and Kunia Galdeiro, Buddy Fo with Bruce Hamada and Noel Okimoto, and tracks featuring Herb Ohta, Jr., Gary Aiko, Pierre Grill, Mary Ann Lim, Mahi Beamer, Charlie Recaido, and many others.
The songs are also a fantastic collection of Island standards: “ Akaka Falls,” Kipahulu,” “Noho Paipai,” “Manuela Boy,” “On a Coconut Island,” “Ke Kali Nei Au,” and eleven others, all evoking a Hawai`i of long ago. I just wish I knew more about how “long ago” these talented folks worked together.
There is no question that the Cord International folks (primarily Michael and Maryann Cord) understand the art of the compilation, particularly with historical reissues. Recent years have seen their marvelous “Legends of the `Ukulele” and “Territorial Airwaves” collections, and the anthology of living legend Linda Dela Cruz.
Working with internet radio host Aloha Joe (who has developed the series “A Place Called Hawai`i” with the label), this volume celebrates steel guitar recordings from twenty great players. Stars of the past, such as Sol Ho`opi`i, Tau Moe and Jerry Byrd shine alongside present-day practitioners like Bob Brozman, Ken Emerson, Bobby Ingano and Greg Sardinha.
What truly makes this set special are the details you learn about each player - especially some of the folks who should not be forgotten, such as Billy Hew Len, who played on recordings with Genoa Keawe, Jesse Kalima, Myrtle K. Hilo and others - despite having lost his left hand in an accident (he wore a leather glove with a steel bar attached).
Another bonus to the set are the marvelous photos of steel guitars of all styles and designs, ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s; standard-looking instruments, frypan-styles, rectangular marvels, and even a 24-string triple-necked Fender.
Fans of the steel guitar will have to own this disc, and it will also be welcomed by all who feel that this instrument is the “sound of Hawai`i.”
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