Island Mele: Na Leo and Bobby Brooks Wilson

Feb. 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEWS BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

‘Romantic Waikiki’

Na Leo (NPL Music)

It’s been 28 years since Na Leo — then performing as Na Leo Pilimehana — debuted as the 1984 winners of the original I-94 “Brown Bags to Stardom” talent contest. Their contest-winning original song, “Local Boys,” controversial but a island radio hit, won the trio their first Na Hoku Hanohano Award a year later. A dozen Hoku Awards later Na Leo’s newest full-length album is a major new title in modern Hawaiian music.

The trio — Nalani Jenkins Choy, Lehua Kalima and Angie Fernandez Morales — harmonizes as beautifully as ever. All three also contribute as song writers.

The title defines the theme. Na Leo is celebrating the rich legacy of 20th century Hawaiian and hapa haole songs that have ties to Waikiki. For “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” the connection is obvious. Others fit because they were popular there during a time that many now see in retrospect as a golden age in island music.

Na Leo pays homage to the Farden family with a beautiful treatment of “Puamana,” the Farden family song composed by family patriarch Charles Kekua Farden and his daughter, Irmgard Farden Aluli. They evoke memories of the hapa haole craze on the mainland with “Taua I Ta Huahua‘i (known outside Hawaii as “The Hawaiian War Chant”).

The trio bridges several eras with “Hawai‘i Aloha.” Most visitors probably won’t know its significance but Na Leo’s smooth arrangement fits in perfectly with the modern classics and their own new compositions.

A beautifully Illustrated liner notes booklet provides the song lyrics, English translations where needed, composers’ credits and additional information that completes this award-worthy album.

‘It’s About Time’

Bobby Brooks Wilson (Plateau Music)

Bobby Brooks Wilson, known as Bobby Brooks back in the 1990’s, broke into show business portraying Jackie Wilson in the original Waikiki production of “Legends in Concert.” Audiences found him an unusually close natural look-alike, even for a tribute artist, and he went on to national success portraying the legendary entertainer.

Eventually, with the aid of one of Wilson’s acknowledged children, he confirmed that Wilson was his biological father. With this aptly titled album, Bobby Brooks Wilson steps outside the role of tribute artist and performs as himself.

The musical arrangements set Wilson’s album apart from his father’s major recordings. Jackie Wilson had most of his biggest hits in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s but the musical arrangements here bring to mind the Top 40/R&B hits of the early ‘70s.

The opening song, “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” launches the project with an expansive orchestral arrangement, an expressive vocal performance by Wilson, and a lyric message spiced with a memorable twist.

Yes, Wilson includes ’70s-style remakes of three of his father’s hits, and does a remake of an Otis Redding hit as well, but by the time “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Lonely Teardrops” come up, Bobby Brooks Wilson has displayed his range and vocal charisma with songs that aren’t indelibly tied to other artists.

The title track is Wilson’s contribution as a song writer. It closes the album with an expressive love song.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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