Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Spirit

"Hapa Holidays" Is a fun yet refreshing blend of old and new.

Innovative as always, Hapa's 1995 Christmas album "Hapa Holidays" is an inventive mix of old and new Christmas tunes. Instead of focusing solely on Christmas songs the pair have decided to focus on the spirit of the season with a larger theme of Love. So while half the songs are strictly about Christmas the other half are simply love songs or biblical songs that are very well chosen to fit in the spirit of the album. Such as "Love is the Reason to Believe," "House of Gold," and a song from Santa to Mrs. Claus in the cover of "Lady in Red."
The familiar songs that are here such as "Joy to the World" and "Mele Kalikimaka" are performed as well arranged instrumentals which set them apart from the many other renditions.
For listeners looking for a departure from the very familiar Christmas recordings but with out losing that Holiday feeling, this album for you. But this is a very good album whether it is Christmas time or not.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reichel's interesting first compilation

Keali'i Reichel's first best of collection "Kamahiwa Collection One" is an interesting selection.

Keali'i Reichel was one of the most popular Hawaiian Musicians of the 1990s. He released four albums throughout the decade and all were big hits containing a number of hit songs on each album. His output has lessened since the start of the new millennium with only one new album and a Christmas record. He is still a revered Artist in the Hawaiian Music world.

In 2005 he released his first compilation "Kamahiwa Collection One." There are a lot of interesting things about the collection however. First off it is a double disc, something Hawaiian Music CDs are generally not because it is more profitable to make two separate CDs instead of one double disc. Second the majority of the songs are not hits, however big songs like "Kawaipunahele" and "Maunaleo" are included. Yet "The Road that Never Ends" is the only English language song and hits like "Wanting Memories" are absent. Third the second disc is comprised entirely of Hawaiian Language chants.
As the liner notes point out this Collection is designed to explore Reichel's perpetuation of the Hawaiian poetic arts and be simply a greatest hits compilation. The notes also suggest that the listener not simply enjoy the sounds but delve into the meanings of the lyrics and songs.

These are not criticisms but simply interesting choices for his first compilation. The Collection is excellently packaged with full lyrics and English translations, fine liner notes and a few words, written by Reichel, about each song. "Kamahiwa" achieves its goal of showcasing Reichel's perpetuation of Hawaiian Song, yet listeners looking for a Greatest Hits collection may be disappointed. Reichel later released a companion CD "Kamalei Collection Two" which contained more hits but again is not a straight forward hits compilation. Those seeking a full view of Reichel as an artist will be interested in seeking out both Collections.

Friday, November 20, 2009

HAPA Live!

"HAPA Live The PBS Hawaii Sessions" is exciting and puzzling all at the same time.

HAPA is one of the best and most innovative groups to ever come out of Hawaii and in my opinion they are the best group still performing in Hawaiian Music today.

The group, consisting of Barry Flanagan and Nathan Aweau, hardly performs Live in Hawaii anymore. Sure they give a monthly appearance at Chai's Island Bistro but they have not done a big concert at the Waikiki Shell or at Hawaii Theater in many years. The majority of their concerts take place in the continental United States and are widely praised with excellence. So if any Hawaiian group demands a Live concert release it is HAPA.
Yet here is the first puzzling part about the album "HAPA Live." It is not a concert recording but a recording of the group performing songs in the PBS studios for their TV special "HAPA Maui." So there is no audience present during the performance and the atmosphere is much more controlled than at a regular concert.

The pair run through ten songs culled largely from their first album "HAPA" and their most recent release "Maui." There is a rawness and live energy to the recordings but they do not differ from the studio versions very much. Only the song "Twinkletoes," a solo on Bass Guitar by Aweau, is drastically different from the album version and it is excellent. Flanagan, who is a Jimi Hendrix of Slack Key Guitar, never really breaks loose into a guitar solo that was not already established by the original album. He remains stuck in the original mold which is kind of disappointing.

Overall what is impressive about the album is how only two voices and two guitars can recreate album sounds that were created by ten guitars and five voices. So if you want a HAPA Live album this so far is your only option but it may not fulfill the anticipation. Another curious note about the album is that it was released without any publicity a year after the TV special release. The album was then discontinued shortly after its release, making it something of a collectors item, I guess.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keli'i Kaneali'i goes to Kaua'i

"Keli'i Kaneali'i returns to Music with his debut solo album"

Keli'i Kaneali'i rose to fame in the early 1990's along with Barry Flanagan as the duo named HAPA. They were one of the most popular and successful Hawaiian Music groups of the decade with a string of hit albums. The pair went their separate ways in 1999 after the release of the album "Namahana." Flanagan reformed HAPA with Nathan Aweau and continued the group's success with 2005's hit album "Maui."

Kaneali'i on the other hand decided to perform only occasionally in various small restaurant settings and by 2008 he had all but disappeared from Hawaii's music scene.

And now Kaneali'i returns in 2009 appearing with Amy Hanaiali'i on the CD featured with the popular children's book "A President From Hawaii." Released right around the same time is his debut solo album "Kaua'i."

The album is well produced and Kaneali'i's familiar voice has not aged a bit, he still sounds excellent. As the, very brief, liner notes indicate this album was a labor of love for Kaneali'i and his passion shows in every song. There is also a strong feel for time and place while listening to the songs on this album I felt transported to the green and dusty back roads of the Garden Isle. Yet despite those strong aspects the album is a rather sleepy affair. Five of the ten songs are covers of familiar tunes like "Kimo Hula" and "He Hawai'i Au" none veer to far from their original incarnations. The other five songs are originals of which the best is "Me Kou Nani E." The songs are all very soothing and performed in very simple and straight forward arrangements. Anyone expecting the innovation of HAPA will be disappointed. Overall the album is fine but it is not likely to return Kaneali'i to Hawaiian Music popularity since none of the songs are really catchy or pop oriented. Like I said earlier this album is a labor of love and maybe Kaneali'i just enjoyed making the album.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Manoa DNA shows growth

"No Place Like Home" Shows growth for the Trio.

The Kawakami family trio of Manoa residents Lloyd (Dad), and sons Nick and Alex (where they get their inventive group name) has made a second album that shows much growth in both song choice, style and professionalism. Their first album, "Follow Me," consisted mainly of original compositions by Alex. While the songs were good they were not spectacular and some of them really blended into each other.

Here on their second album Alex still writes all the original songs but the group now balances his song writing with covers making the album consist of six Alex originals and six covers, that include "Fire and Rain" and "The Hurt." The covers, while not very different from the originals, are very well chosen and fit into the scheme of the album perfectly. They fit so well that if one has never heard the song they could be convinced they were originals. What really impresses, though, are Alex's originals, the opener "Down in Paradise" is a killer pop song. If this were still the radio age it would be a song that people would hear constantly on the airwaves, its catchy up beat and excellent. Other original highlights include "Before I knew your Name" and "Lovers Lullaby."

If this growth process continues, particularly in Alex's song writing, the group's next few albums should be spectacular and possibly make the group as big superstars in Hawaii as they are in Japan. Keep on growing Kawakami boys and keep up the good music.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Force of Nature indeed

"Ledward Kaapana & Mike Kaawa Live at the Triple Door, Seattle, FORCE of NATURE"

This excellent live recording from 2008 features the slack key legend, Kaapana, and the known but not really famous Kaawa in fine form in front of an energetic and enthusiastic crowd. As with most Live Hawaiian Music albums this is not a full concert it is twelve songs picked from a single concert. So the sound is not continuous each track fades in at the beginning and out at the end.

Never the less both Kaapana and Kaawa's talents are on fine display. This is Kaapana's best live album and it easily surpasses "Led Live - Solo." There are lots of seemingly improvised guitar solos and the finger picking is simply spectacular. The on stage banter between the pair is also showcased and you can hear Led reacting to a solo that Kaawa performed and vice versa. The stand outs here are "Opihi Moemoe," "He Wehi No Ke Kai" and "Twelfth Street Rag/Sweet Georgia Brown." This is recommended to fans of the two artists and listeners who have enjoyed Led live and have been searching for an album that captures the experience this is for you. Winner of the Na Hoku (Hawaii's Grammy awards) for Favorite Entertainer of the Year.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Amy Hanaiali`i and Friends

"Friends and Family of Hawai`i is a fine album"
This has become a popular idea in music, an artist records a number of usually cover songs (originally sung by someone else) with a number of famous or renowned other artists and then releases and album called "Friends." See the recently released Joshua Bell album "At Home with Friends" for further proof.

So here comes Amy Hanaiali`i album "Friends and Family of Hawai`i" which features 16 new recordings of Amy paired with some of Hawaiian music's finest male singers, such as Robert Cazimero, Henry Kapono, and Palani Vaughn just to name a few.

The album is well made and very soothing to the ears. All sixteen tracks retain a very mellow easy listening quality. As the liner notes indicate Hanaiali`i wanted to sing each song in the style of the guest artists choosing. For instance her duet with the Martin Pahinui Trio, "Maka Alohilohi," sounds like a breezy backyard jam similar to the records made by Pahinui's father, slack key legend Gabby Pahinui. Then "Everybody Plays the Fool" a duet with the group Rebel Soljahz features their Jawaiian reggae vibes. "I Believe in You" an new original by Robert Cazimero and also his duet is the album's best track and features Cazimero's trademark piano and string orchestra. All the tracks are given fine support by producer, and Honolulu Symphony director, Matt Catingub's lush production.

Overall the album is an enjoyable listen. Fans of Hanaiali`i's previous album "Aumakua" and particularly her version of "Have you Ever Seen the Rain?" will probably love this album. Fans of her earlier falsetto infused work, such as "Hawaiian Tradition," will probably not enjoy this as much as others. This album is largely sung in English and focuses more on smooth pop ballads than traditional Hawaiian sounds. Its more of a cross over album for Hanaiali`i filled with easy listening ballads. Like I said if you liked her previous album, and many people did, this is for you and it is a very enjoyable and low key listen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Wooden Boat for all time

Keola Beamer is one of the masters of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Along with his younger brother Kapono, an accomplished player in his own right, the pair were one of the most popular Hawaiian groups of the 1970s as The Beamer Brothers (also billed as Keola and Kapono Beamer). The pair also recorded a genuine classic in Keola's "Honolulu City Lights" and its spectacular album of the same name.

After disbanding in 1983 Keola and Kapono both went on to successful solo careers. Keola was always the more visible of the two and that didn't change when the pair disbanded. Kapono released a number of successful solo albums but he remained largely out of the public eye. Keola on the other hand seemed to embrace his celebrity.
In the early 1990s Keola signed on to George Winston's Dancing Cat/Windham Hill record label whose goal was to promote Slack Key Guitar on a national level, the label also signed other masters like Leward Ka`apana, Cyril Pahinui, Ray Kane, and Sonny Chillingworth. Keola's first Dancing Cat release "Wooden Boat" (pictured above) in 1994 was one of the labels highlights as well as a highlight in Keola's discography. The album debuted at number 15 on Billboard's World music charts an extremely high place for a first album and is a return to the earlier style of albums like "This is our Island Home" and "In the Real Old Style." The music is traditional and innovative. The songs alternate between instrumental and lyric tracks forming a great balance and while on many albums instrumentals tend to fade from memory, not in Keola's hands. The instrumentation here paints pictures in the mind and builds an image of Hawaii that is not often seen. From taking a ride with the native birds "Elepaio Slack Key" to a hula through the realms of gods "Dancers in the land of Po" the imagery that Keola's music creates is vivid and powerful.
The album contains pop music "Don't you want to be my Baby?" calypso "Hemo da Kope Bean," classics "Kalena Kai," traditional "E Manono," and contemporary "Where I hold you." This album is a pleasure from start to finish and should be part of any Slack Key fan's collection. If you are a fan of Keola or The Beamer brothers this is highly recommended. The packaging is first rate with lyrics and little history about each song and the recording process as well as lots of information about Slack Key. "Wooden Boat" is mainly available on the internet because the record company is not widely producing it anymore, so get your copy while you can it is really a treasure.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cecilio & Kapono back from the Day

Cecilio & Kapono (affectionately called C&K) were one of the most popular groups in 1970s Hawaiian Music and are certainly the most enduring group of the era. For the past thirty years they have been able to consistently sell out concert venues around the world despite the fact that they have not released an album of all new material since 1988's smash hit "Goodtimes Together." That album, and the following tour, was released to celebrate the pair's 15th anniversary even though they had been disbanded for nearly ten years.

They reunited for a year to support "Goodtimes Together" but then went their separate ways for the majority of the 90s.
In 1998 C&K reunited again to celebrate their 25th anniversary and promote the release of their excellent greatest hits collection "Journey Through the Years" and "The Journey Continues." They separated again until 2003 for a massive for a series of 30th anniversary performances at Kapono's Restaurant. This reunion became permanent as of this post and the pair has celebrated their 35th anniversary with their first album of all new material since "Goodtimes Together."
Their new album, titled "C&K", released in Sept. 8, 2009
This album is very catchy but it is rather short with only eight songs, the shortness may influence buyers in these tight times. Also four of the songs have been previously released, "Gather Round" and "Too Many Lovers," are available on the 2003 CD "Lifetime Party 30 Years of Friends." "Back in the Day" was released as a radio single in 2008 to coincide with the concert of the same name. And "Smooth Sailing" (a song that only C&K could pull off) was released as a free download on C&K's website. Those are actually the best songs on the album the other four are good but not equal to the above four. "Baby Mine" is very catchy and works well as a driving song. "Forever and For All" is one of those wonderful little Kapono love songs. The other two songs "That's Love" and "One More for the Road" are decent but average on the whole, the latter will work very well in concert.
The entire album is filled with nostalgia and is very similar to "Goodtimes Together" it is good but not a classic like C&K's first three albums. The sound is smooth and crisp, the harmonies are there, the songs are up lifting and inoffensive, and will probably please C&K's diehard fans (of which there are many). Time will probably do to this album what it did to "Goodtimes Together" with the lesser songs falling through the cracks and the best songs will become as enduring as C&K.
So if you are one of those fans that buys every C&K album and gets excited for every reunion concert this album is for you. If you like C&K but can take em or leave um this probably won't turn your decision either way. Overall this new album will give you a warm fuzzy feel and a memory of the good times and it is best in the car for the long hours stuck in H1 traffic.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stephen Stills Returns

Stephen Stills is one of my favorite musician and he was once poised to become one of the great voices in American song. He was getting there as well, if one looks at his work from the late 60s and early 70s, every song is nearly flawless. But somewhere towards the end of the 1970s Stills lost much of his creative power, particularly his song writing ability, turning out a number of uneven albums that had only a few good songs. This slew of sub par albums caused him to fall out of many music listeners earshot. Stills himself has stated that he has lost his creative gifts and over the past thirty years the majority of Stills' albums have gone largely unnoticed. Yet his guitar playing, which rivals that of Eric Clapton, has remained excellent and his concert tours over the years, both solo and with his buddies David Crosby, Graham Nash, and sometimes Neil Young, have drawn packed crowds.

I hope Stills' fall from grace will change with the release of a number of his albums from the 60s and 70s that have never been heard before. The first of these came out in 2007 the "Just Roll Tape" (see photo below) album was an impromptu recording from 1968 which Stills performed with just an acoustic guitar.
This album of early demos reminded listeners of the genius that Stills once possessed and apparently spurred him to open his audio archives and find more unreleased music. He released a similar album in early 2009 with the group Crosby, Stills and Nash called "Demos" which was a collection of early demo songs that later ended up on their albums.

Then on September 2, 2009 came the best "unreleased" album so far in "Manassas Pieces."
The original Manassas album is widely regarded as a masterpiece and the Manassas group that Stills formed is considered one of the high points in his career. So after the excellent first album and a terrible second album ("Down the Road") comes this album of great songs that should have been the group's second album. The songs on "Pieces" are of spectacular sound quality, all of these were intended for album so there are no demo sounds here. Some of the songs, particularly toward the end, are a little short (one or two minutes) which kind of shows they were not fully realized but none the less this is an excellent album and one of Stills' best in years.

This fine release is only the beginning, on Oct. 27, 2009 Stills will release his first full length live album in the double disc "Live at Shepherd's Bush" recorded during his 2008 concert tour. Also announced are a Manassas Live album (one can only dream of this greatness), a number of recordings between Stills and Jimi Hendrix (who appeared on Stills debut and was Stills' guitar teacher) and a solo box set. All these bring water to my mouth. One can only hope these other releases are as good as "Manassas Pieces." And maybe this journey into the past will spark Stills' creative energy again. Here's hoping and happy listening everyone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My First one

Ok so I have never done one of these before so I guess I will start with saying what this blog will hopefully be about. I am planning on focusing on music, possibly mainly the music of Hawaii, maybe if this goes well I could expand to include all kinds of entertainment (movies, music, books, comics, dance, etc.) but lets see what happens. Before I start I just wanted to say thanks to the lovely lady who writes the Hot Robot blog for all her help in getting me started with this blog stuff. Well here goes.

Beatles for Sale
So the big news in the music world over the last week was that The Beatles catalogue has been re-released in special edition remastered CDs. The process of remastering, according to reports, has taken nearly four years and done by George Martin (the man behind the scenes of all the original Beatles recordings including the recent "Love" CD).
What is the difference between these new Remastered CDs and the original CD releases from 1987 (which have been the only available Beatles music for quite some time)?
1. The sound of the new releases are louder than the 1987 releases
2. McCartney's bass guitar is much clearer on the new releases
3. On certain albums it is much easier to hear the different instruments being played
4. All the new releases come with new archival photos and brief liner notes, which were sorely lacking on the 1987 releases.
5. Each new release CD has a four minute "mini-documentary" about the making of the album which is playable on Quicktime in your computer.*
6. New cardboard digipack cases instead of the plastic jewel cases.

*one complaint I read about these "mini-documentarys" is that when the disc is put into the computer for instance to load the songs into iTunes the documentary pops up and makes it difficult to download the songs into iTunes.

So if you already have all the 1987 CDs, these New Releases may not be worth all the money. Except for the most diligent listeners most people will not be able to spot vast differences unless they play the 1987 and the New discs back to back. As the music has thankfully not been remixed so drastically that the songs no longer resemble the ones we know and love. If you don't own any of the Beatles albums (sad but it can happen) these will certainly please your ears. The Beatles catalogue contains some of the finest rock and pop music to ever be recorded and judging from the bestseller list on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble many people are snatching up these new releases. If you're a Beatles Fanatic (you know who you are) you probably already have bought these new releases weeks ago and if you are a fanatic and have not bought them the new liner notes and mini-documentarys are some prime incentives.
If you are a casual listener and already own the 1987 CDs you'll be fine, but if you are really curious to hear the difference borrow the new Remasters from a Beatles Fanatic near you, come on we all know at least one Beatles Fanatic.

take care and thanks for reading.