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.