Friday, August 26, 2011

Hapa- "Collection"

This is another slight cheat because I made my own collection of music by HAPA.

HAPA, one of the finest music groups to ever come out of Hawaii, a duo featuring New Jersey native Barry Flanagan and Hawaiian guy Keali'i Kaneali'i. Their self titled first album is a masterwork, a smash hit that is even more remarkable because all the songs are either instrumentals or Hawaiian Language. The extremely catchy songs have become woven into Hawaii's soundscape like much older classic songs before them.

Their truly excellent slack key guitar work puts them almost in the Rock or Jazz context. But they are firmly rooted in the music of a modern Hawaii.

Their second album "In the Name of Love," also excellent, focused more on english language pop than the previous album and used the U2 anthem "Pride" as its center point creating an anthem for all people (in this case Hawaiians).
"HAPA Holidays" was an adventurous christmas album that focused on the theme of love rather than simply showcasing familiar holiday tunes. "Namahana" had its moments but was not as good as their first two albums. These two latter albums returned to the instrumental and Hawaiian Language concept of their debut.

Then they took a sharp left turn with "Surf Madness" a 60s style (like the song "Wipeout") completely electric instrumental surf rock album. Never before had a popular Hawaiian group gone so far outside of the style that made them popular, usually once a group has a hit they stick with that sound till the bitter end. The album has its moments but in the end is more of a fun experiment than an actual album. After "Surf Madness" the duo called it quits and issued a compilation album.

The original incarnation of "Collection" is a skimpy ten track sampler that gives no insight into HAPA's excellence. Sure the songs are good but there are no instrumentals when half of the group's catalog is instrumental. Also there are no songs from the "Holidays" or "Surf Madness" albums and big hits like "Olinda Road," "Kaopuiki Aloha" and "Nani Wale O Kaiulani" are absent. Don't get me started on missing album tracks.

This is a penchant for Hawaiian music artists to not release comprehensive compilations in order to force consumers to pick up the individual albums to find actual hits. So I have created my own HAPA collection a comprehensive work that picks tracks from all their albums, spreads over two CDs and comprises 24 tracks much better than the lame ten track original. Sometimes you got to fight the system.

After the two parted ways, Flanagan reformed HAPA with Nathan Aweau and made the masterpiece album "Maui." It seems that grouping has split as well and sadly Flanagan has found interest in the ukulele because there are not enough ukulele players in Hawaii. Kaneali'i finally released his first, largely unremarkable mainly labor of love, solo album in 2009.

None the less HAPA created some of the best music Hawaii has to offer and whether you want to buy the original albums, the original collection, or make your own compilation their music is not to be missed.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Use Your Illusion II"

The second half of Guns N' Roses 1991 double release (a double album released as two single CDs) titled "Use Your Illusion I&II." Part 2 is a very different affair, while Part 1 largely retained GN'Rs blues hard rock 2 seems to take its cue from Queen and Elton John. Most of the tracks seem to take the excellent "November Rain" as a blue print which is a plus, and many of them are Rock Love Songs or more sophisticated Power Ballads, Axl's Grand Piano is featured on many of the songs.

The song writing for the most part is much stronger than on Part 1, where some of the lyrics seemed cobbled together to just get a song recorded. Here most of the songs seemed well thought out. The songs are largely slow to mid-tempo ballads and many are quite long (3 songs run nearly 10 minutes and most songs are over Five Minutes) which could have hurt the album but the longer songs are usually the better ones. "Civil War" is an ambitious social commentary which is quite good, "14 Years" and the excellent "Yesterdays" are power pop with a strong GN'R edge. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is good (of course its Dylan) but misguided electric guitar hero version. "Breakdown" is a wonderful Elton John tribute. Then there are the two "November Rain" songs "So Fine" and the truly excellent multi sequence "Estranged."

Like Part 1, there is also a half albums worth of filler and clutter, "Shotgun Blues," "Pretty Tied Up" "Locomotive" and "You Could Be Mine." The alternate version of "Don't Cry" is so minutely different that it really does not need to be here. There is the pure childish crap of "Get in the Ring" in which Axl calls out all his critics by name and tells them @*%&$ Off, over some guitar riffs. He literally uses the F-Word on every other line. The album closing "My World" is truly a WTF moment, it is Axl moaning over weird noises for a few minutes. Sadly it seems like the precursor to all that late 90s goth crap that became popular in certain circles.

Overall like Part 1, Part 2 has excellent guitars and Axl's killer voice. This is more ambitious and thus more rewarding when the songs work, but when they don't they are ten times worse. This is the perfect iTunes album because you can grab the good half album and let the rest fade away. Like I said in the previous post "Use Your Illusion I&II" could have been a perfect single album; but as the albums stand when Guns N' Roses are good they are unbelievably excellent and have some of the best songs around, when they are bad they are BAD.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Use Your Illusion I"

The difficult second album for Guns N' Roses was more difficult than most. Their first album, 1987's "Appetite for Destruction," was a monster that made the GN'R one of the biggest bands in the world. The recording was troubled, particularly Axl Rose is incredibly hard to work with, numerous fights and massive substance abuse took the group till 1991 to release their ambitious "Use Your Illusion I&II" albums. Essentially these are a double album but released as two single disc CDs. Pretty good marketing considering, instead of getting people to buy a double album for $25 they got them to buy two single discs for $15-$18.

Anyway to the album, Part 1 is certainly the harder rocking of the two. The problem is that on some of the songs the Guns sound like they are trying to be the fierce band that they once were like they are wearing a mask. On their first album they fully felt real here sometimes it seems like they are trying too hard. Axl in particular said he wanted the second album(s) to be different from the first, which is fine but he did not seem to know how to make them different. He also seems to feel that he needed to take up the mantle of the spokesperson of the generation writing faux social commentary and trying to send a message which really does not work. All in all it seems the group does not really know what it wants to say and thus recorded a bunch of music that jumps all over the map.

Izzy Stradlin' actually comes up with some of the best songs "You Ain't the First," "Double Talkin' Jive" and "Don't Cry." Axl's "November Rain" a nine minute piece that features a whole symphony orchestra is a powerhouse and one of the best songs of the decade. "Back off Bitch" and "Don't Damn Me" are other gems. There is a decent harder edged cover of McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" but it seems odd that GN'R would cover a Wings song, come on a Wings song! it just does not match.

There is also half an album's worth of filler and lousy songs, "Coma," "Dead Horse," "Bad Apples," "The Garden" and "Garden of Eden (featuring Alice Cooper)."

Overall the guitars are constantly awesome, Slash and Stradlin' don't disappoint. Axl's voice sounds awesome as always. There are a number of strong even excellent songs but the album is messy and cluttered. Jumping all over the place this is one of those albums that will benefit from iTunes, that way one can buy the half album or so that is really good and let the rest go. In reality "Use Your Illusion I&II" had only enough good songs to make one killer album yet as the pair stands they are two flawed albums with brilliant moments among the clutter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Appetite for Destruction"

In the early 2000s VH1 began airing segments of their "Behind the Music" series that instead of focusing on a specific artist they focused on a decade and its music or a specific year in music history. It was kind of like their current "I Love the (insert decade here)" but focusing only on music and in a serious vein.

This show is where I started discovering all kinds of great music and during the episode that focused on the second half of the 1980s is where I learned of the mighty Guns N' (F*&^ing) Roses. This, their debut album is one of the greats in Rock history and is a ferocious angry record with some killer guitar lines.

Released in 1987 "Appetite for Destruction" appeared in stores but it took over a year before the Guns really caught on thanks to the presence of "Sweet Child O' Mine" on MTV. But when they finally caught fire they came with every fricken barrel blazing and along with U2's Joshua Tree album (now there is a weird pairing) destroyed the Hair Metal Juggernaut that had completely taken over the rock scene in the 80s.

Guns N' Roses were a return to the 60s and 70s style rock, yet totally an original incarnation. Equal parts Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Van Halen yet they were fiercer and more angry than any of them. The first track "Welcome to the Jungle" clearly stated this was something different. Listeners were exiting their lipstick wearing, Aquanet teased hair metal and entering a Jungle filled with roses that turned out to fire big ass bullets. They were out to destroy the musical landscape and make it their own scary world. A world filled with drugs ("Nightrain"), dealers ("Mr. Brownstone"), paranoia ("Out to Get Me"), prostitutes ("It's So Easy"), pornography ("My Michelle"), homosexuals ("Rocket Queen"), where the F-Word is used just for the hell of it.
Yet in this weird jungle there was the ability to escape into tenderness and love ("Sweet Child O' Mine"), the possibility of a nicer world ("Paradise City") and the solace of a true love ("Think About You")

As for the music it is razor sharp, fast and aiming for the jugular. Axl Rose has one of the best voices in rock music, his low moan and that screeching howl that is instantly identifiable. Slash is a guitar god, just the opening riff of "Sweet Child" can testify to that. Slash and Izzy Stradlin are one of the best guitar duos in history.

This album is essential to any rock (especially Hard Rock) fan. All of us have an appetite and Guns N' Roses can satisfy it and then rip your stomach out. Nuff' Said.

Ghostbusters Original Soundtrack Album

Ghostbusters of my favorite movie. I love everything involving the Ghostbusters, The Real Ghostbusters is also my favorite cartoon. Ghostbusters video game is crazy awesome.

Anyway one Halloween my grandmother gave me this soundtrack album to the original film as a present. Basically this is straight 1980s pop (Air Supply appears on the album) but like most soundtrack albums outside of the movie the music is not all that great. With the exception of the awesome Ray Parker Jr. title track (which I don't think sounds like "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis), The Bus Boys' "Cleaning up the Town" and the two orchestra tracks by the great Elmer Bernstein the rest of the album is largely forgettable and is best when viewed as part of the movie. I am glad I own this because it makes me think of my wonderful Grandma, I used to watch the movie with her all the time. Thanks for the album.

Friday, August 5, 2011

George Street - "Living On Daydreams" and other albums.

In 1983 the trio from Hawaii known as George Street - Gail Mack, Gordon Kim and Steve Min - released their first album "Living on Daydreams." They had already established themselves as a popular live act performing at Chuck's restaurant in Manoa Marketplace. They had been performing together since 1980 and this started a series of successful albums and even a tour of Japan.
Their music is firmly planted in the acoustic folk style of 1970s and 60s pop like James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell mixed with the later 1980s easy listening pop of Christopher Cross, Stephen Bishop, and Chris DeBurgh.
Their style plays on Mack's strong singing voice, the fine three part harmony, and the acoustic guitars. Their first is probably my favorite album unified sound and just a strong set of songs "Strangers," "Estoril," "Maui," "Daydreams" and "White Rhythm and Blues" are the cream of the crop and also half the album.

They followed "Daydreams" with a Live recording in 1984 and then their second studio album "Magic lady" in 1985. Their second recording followed a similar pattern to the first, the focus was still the harmonies and acoustic guitars but they expanded their sound to add the Nueva Vida Rhythm Section which gives many of the songs a smooth Jazzy feel. My favorites from this album are "What's in this Name Called Love," "The Way that I Love You," "To Be with You" and the title track.

1986 came "Friends" an album of cover songs, which I happen to be on the cover of, left hand side, at the age of one. In 1987 they released album "Goodbye to the Memories" in Japan which featured some previously released tunes with some new recordings. Mack appeared on Jerry Santos' (of Olomana fame) lone solo album "Expecting Friends" in 1989.

George Street returned with 1991's studio album "Seasons" which featured a similar sound to "Magic Lady" but with a 1990s feel, again it featured the smooth jazzy tones of the Nueva Vida Rhythm Section. Favorite tracks include "Blueboy," "Times with You" and the excellent title track. As time went on this eventually became their final album.

In 1995 the compilation album "To Be with You Reminiscing with George Street" appeared collecting songs from "Daydreams" and "Magic Lady" for their first appearance on CD. 1996 found Mack releasing the popular christmas single "Christmas Once More in Hawaii Nei" which she originally sang ten years earlier, due to its popularity she released a Christmas album under that title in 2006, which featured a new song by George Street's Gordon Kim. Mack also released the solo album, "Pacific Snowbird" in 1998 featuring songs written by Kim as well as a George Street reunion of sorts with Kim and Steve Min singing back up on one track.

Largely out of sight for much of the 90s and early 2000s. George Street began appearing live in mid 2006 in downtown Honolulu to the delight of their fans. But in 2008 the group called it quits and split up permanently. Kim and Mack eventually reformed as a duo, named Sunset Street in 2010. They have come full circle performing live at Sweet Thai Basil in Manoa Marketplace in the same spot where Chuck's (their first live stage) was located.

Well that was my Reminiscing with George Street :)