POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 15, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 11:17 a.m. HST, Oct 15, 2010
(Follow No Trends Music)
Countless singer-songwriters accompany themselves on acoustic guitar. Paul Hanna sets himself apart from the crowd by having violinist Stephen Normand sit in on one song and bassoonist Bill Lamden as a guest on several more. Bassoon is rarely heard in pop music, and it adds an unusual texture each time it is heard here.
Hanna's voice has an easy, well-worn sound as he addresses social issues such as poverty, the uneven distribution of world resources and the Haitian earthquake. He brings his concerns into everyday American life with "Let It Go" — the lyrics advise us that many things we consider major traumas are minor compared with things people deal with in other parts of the world.
Hanna boosts the intensity of his delivery on "Tubman," a politically charged tribute to African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman. In a lighter vein, he captures the spirit of giddy, youthful love with "Suzzanna." Who hasn't tried to improvise a song about the person they love?
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Makua gets a little kolohe
Fewer local artists have been investing the time and production budget required to release a complete self-contained album on CD, focusing instead on online-only releases. Napua Greig Makua is one of this year's exceptions, following up her 2008 Hoku Award-winning debut album, "Pihana."
Makua introduces herself with a beautiful rendition of "Kilakila 'O Maui" that will win the hearts of anyone hearing her for the first time. Her voice soars high and clear over Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing's zesty arrangement.
Kolohe (risque) topics arise with "I Ka Po Me Ke Ao," a song that must have had some explosive kaona (hidden meanings) for the lyricist. Several others follow in a sequence that suggests Makua has arranged them to trace the trajectory of a longer relationship.
But love does not always go as one wishes. Makua shows her claws with an original, "'Opulu," as she dismisses an abusive and unfaithful man who "can't satisfy a real woman, with a little boy's romance."
Other songs describe the uncomfortable experience of being attracted to someone despite being "caught and spoken for" by another. And yet, the final song, "Forever With You," reveals that this modern "Hawaiian woman" has found a man worthy of her.
Makua (then Greig) was seen as a long shot to win the Hoku Award for Female Vocalist in 2008 — she was up against Teresa Bright, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Raiatea Helm and Ku'uipo Kumukahi & The Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders in the category. She certainly won't be deemed a long shot in 2011, and "Mohalu" would represent Hawaiian music beautifully as a Grammy-winner as well.
Kahakalau forges Christmas blend
Why record only one Christmas album in late summer when you can do two? Producers Bob and Patti St. John used many of the artists heard on their Christmas compilation as studio musicians to back vocalist Robi Kahakalau on this one. It's a welcome return.
It's been 18 years since Kahakalau formed the Hawaiian Style Band with Wade "Che" Cambern, Merri Lake McGarry and Bryan Kessler and recorded a Hoku Award-winning album. After leaving the group, Kahakalau won a pair of Hokus — Female Vocalist and Island Contemporary Album — for her first solo album, "Sistah Robi," in 1996. Kahakalau has recorded several times since then but this one stands out.
The legacy of R. Alex Anderson is represented with "Santa's Hula" and "Holiday Hula." Pop staples include "Blue Christmas," "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Jingle Bell Rock." The religious foundation of Christmas is acknowledged with "Away in a Manger" and "That Spirit of Christmas."
A third Christian song, "Silent Night," stands out for several reasons. Kahakalau is a native speaker of German, and on this song she sings the original German lyrics as well as English and Hawaiian. Guitarist Jeff Rasmussen, a longtime friend and performing partner, adds a soothing, dreamlike quality to the arrangement.
There are nice touches elsewhere. Steel guitar gives "Santa's Hula" a bright, traditional hapa-haole sound, and a muted trumpet adds a touch of wistfulness to "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"
"Blue Christmas" is a risky song for any artist — Elvis defined it perfectly as powerful moody rock, and that Porky Pig version has become inescapable in recent years. Kahakalau succeeds in putting a surprisingly appealing spin on it nonetheless.