Island Mele: Songs have round-the-piano feel
‘Seasons Greetings from Soul Sound’
Many people enjoy singing with family and friends. Maile Judd and Shawn Livingston Moseley take that age-old custom forward by recording the results and releasing them on a CD. Carl “Papa” Judd writes in the liner notes, “What better way to celebrate the season than with the gathering of family and friends? Listen to the voices of our family and friends gathered here and let the magic of their music bring you the warmth and joy we cherish at this time of year.” Heard in that context, it is reasonable to enjoy the remarkable performances here and excuse some of the others.
Most are sung with accompaniment by acoustic string instruments — guitar and ukulele primarily. Grammy Award-nominee Jeff Peterson backs Lia Woods Almanza on “Ave Maria,” and Grammy Award nominee Chino Montero teams up with Kawena Mechler for a romantic, soft-rock version of “Blue Christmas.”
Others stand out as representatives of other genres. Jesse Savio reworks Chuck Berry’s Christmas classic, “Run Run Rudolph,” as acoustic street corner rock. Starr Kalahiki and pianist Kit Ebersbach revisit “Santa Baby” in suitably seductive style. The Piranha Brothers rock it with “Big Red Hat” — a dark, albeit clever tale of Santa’s various misadventures while delivering presents. You’d better be good, the Piranha Brothers warn, because “if you ain’t been good, you ain’t getting crap, and that is that!”
Violinist Kevin Craven contributes a three-song instrumental medley, “We Three Kings” / “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” / “Oh Hanukkah,” as a violin solo. Buck Giles solos on steel guitar in his “Steeling Christmas Medley,” and the contrasting textures of piano and acoustic guitar create a beautiful instrumental take on “Frosty the Snowman.”
“Holiday Chill,” performed by Rodney Alejandro, blends contemporary electronics with bells and acoustic guitar to close the collection on a high-tech note.
“Seasons Greetings from Soul Sound” is available as downloads only at www.hawaiitunes.com. “Papa” Judd writes in the liner notes that all profits from the project are going to the artists and that the record label is making sure that the composers of all copyrighted material are getting the royalties they are legally entitled to as well. That should go without saying, but in Hawaii in the year 2010, it still needs to be said.
Traditional music from Maui
Al Nip and his Maui Jam ohana return with another collection of local favorites and original hapa haole songs. Nip, the resident composer of the group, contributes five of the latter.
Tradition is represented with one song each from the works of Charles E. King and Johnny Noble.
There is a core group of nine plus studio guests. Several selections are played with standard Hawaiian instruments — acoustic guitar, ukulele, steel guitar and acoustic bass — in the traditional style of the 20th century. This seems to be where the group’s heart is, and the musicians play this well.
A Western drum set is not “traditional,” but guest drummer Renato Guasconi nevertheless does an effective job reinforcing the rhythm section on “Sweet Lahaina Girl” and “Church in an Old Hawaiian Town.” Adding pianist Fulton Tashombe to the latter song is also nice idea; adding a faux string section to it is not.
Nip’s hapa haole songs are inspired by current events on the Valley Isle. “Hana Hou Hula” expresses his aloha to the dancers who work at tourist hotels. “There Was a Time” speaks of the need to preserve what remains of Hawaii’s original old-growth forests and the streams that have not yet been confined in concrete channels.
Hawaiian-language songs by other composers are nicely performed but included on the album with no explanation of their meaning, let alone translations. Evidently the group’s audience speaks Hawaiian.
The deep influence of Japanese culture in Hawaii is found in the group’s decision to include two Japanese pop tunes popular in the last century — “Koko Ni Sachi Ari (Here Is Happiness),” performed as an beautiful instrumental feature by guitar and bamboo flute, and “Kimito Itsumademo (Forevermore),” with one of the group’s male members on lead vocals. The English-language narration included in some recordings of these songs isn’t included, nor are liner-note translations; evidently Maui Jam’s audience speaks Japanese as well.
Recaido shares life’s work
‘Life Among the Hills’
Charles Recaido is known for his work as a member of Summer, the group that followed Kalapana as headliners at Toppe Ada Shoppe in the mid-’70s, and more recently for his instrumental recordings with Grammy Award-winnng record producer Charles Michael Brotman. Both sides of his repertoire are represented in this collection of original songs. This is a life’s worth of previously unrecorded work that covers an arc stretching from his teens to his current experiences as a grandfather.
The predominant style — acoustic guitars and smooth harmonies — is reminiscent of Summer but softer and more introspective. Many of the arrangements are as close to “unplugged” as musicians can get without actually turning the power completely off. Others have a bit more juice — an instrumental titled “Surf & Samba” for example — but are still “easy listening” rather than rock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“Tropical Environment” sets the mood as Recaido demonstrates his skill as a guitarist while paying homage to the pioneers of bossa nova and “tropical soul.” If Hawaii had any locally programmed “beautiful music” radio stations this would be a great addition to the play list.
Drums and aggressive licks on acoustic guitar take the project in another direction with “Middle of the Room.” In recent years Recaido has been known as a guitarist rather than as a singer, and although his guitar playing stands out across the board, he shows with “Middle of the Room” that he can command attention as a vocalist.
Recaido steps forward as a political observer with “Our Possession” — a call to see the aina as more than that. Recaido mentions the “development” of Hawaii’s remaining beachfront space for resorts, land requisitioned for military readiness training purposes, and illegal dumping of toxic waste as things that are leading to “our destruction.” The percussion instruments grow in intensity as the song progresses and then yield to slack key.
Although the album officially ends with a 10-second “Outro” segment, the final track, “Two Views of Christmas,” is timely and topical. Recaido uses vivid lyrics and contrasting tempos to present Christmas first as a hectic time of stress and conspicuous consumption (“the price of this is really mean … madness at the malls”) and then as a joyful time for celebrating the wonder of Christ’s birth.
—John Berger / email@example.com