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.