Island Mele: A holiday album, soundtrack and anthology
REVIEWS BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
‘It’s Christmas Time Again’
Freelance sings dolefully of a Christmas that “just won’t be the same without you here … you’re the only gift I need.” Take it as an artist’s personal statement or a composer’s demo awaiting discovery by a major artist or A-list producer. Either way, there’s no denying December is a lonely time for many people.
“It’s Christmas Time Again” is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
‘The Descendants: Music From The Motion Picture’
Various Artists (Sony Classical)
Hawaiian music has been heard in Hollywood films ever since the advent of the “talkies” in the early ’30s, but no mainstream feature film in recent years has showcased Hawaiian music — not local pop, rock or Jawaiian — as prominently as “The Descendants.” The film’s soundtrack album consists entirely of Hawaiian and hapa-haole music.
Slack key predominates. “Descendants” director Alexander Payne and his soundtrack production team include five recordings by Gabby Pahinui and a sixth that Pahinui made while he was a member of the Sons of Hawai‘i. Slack key is also represented with recordings by Keola Beamer, Sonny Chillingworth, Dennis Kamakahi, Ray Kane, Ozzie Kotani, Makana, Daniel Ho, Jeff Peterson and George Winston. There are two versions of “Hi‘ilawe.”
Hawaii’s beloved hapa-haole tradition is represented with one song each by Lena Machado and Sol Hoopii’s Novelty Trio — the local bar band seen and heard in one scene in the movie did not make the cut.
More perplexing is the absence of any songs representing the 19th-century musical traditions of the Alii class whose land was the foundation of the (fictional) King family fortune. One or two of those classic melodies would have introduced film audiences to another important form of traditional Hawaiian music while also referencing the family’s roots.
Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and artists’ bios are also not included. Hopefully many of the people who buy tickets to see George Clooney will be as enchanted by the music as Payne was when he first heard it and then be inspired to do their own research. That makes the album a welcome showcase for traditional Hawaiian music.
Journey of Light: The Early Years
Lei‘ohu Ryder (Ululoa)
The context and kaona (hidden meanings) of Hawaiian songs are essential elements of any Hawaiian music album. Lei‘ohu Ryder and co-producer Jake Rohrer provide some of that information in unusual but effective style in this anthology of recordings from Ryder’s first three albums for the label — “Kukuipuka” (1998), “Ho‘ola‘a” (1999) and “Waiha” (2002).
Liner notes are the usual place for this information but Ryder and Rohrer use cuts of her talking during a concert as intros for the studio recordings. She speaks of her childhood on Oahu, the reason she goes barefoot whenever possible, and her concerns for her students (Ryder was teaching 7th graders at Maui’s Iao Intermediate School when the show was recorded in 1999). She also recalls the people and events that have inspired her as a songwriter. All this is important information — especially when shared in the composer’s own words.
The anthology closes with a previously unreleased track of Ryder recording “Hale Aloha O Ulu Loa” as the words and melody came to her at the end of the recording sessions for her second album. Outtakes and other types of unofficial recordings are often of interest. That’s true here as a moment of spontaneous creativity caps an unconventional retrospective.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for nearly 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.