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Willie K. Christmas album bright, breezy

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 11:51 p.m. HST, Nov 5, 2010

'Hawaiian Host Presents New Original Music from Willie K'

Willie K
(Maui Tribe)

Hawaiian Host did very well two years ago when it teamed up with Raiatea Helm to release a limited-edition "Christmas Macadamia and Music Medley" candy sampler that presented four of the company's most popular candies and a special five-song Helm CD. It's no surprise that Hawaiian Host is back with a new music-and-chocolate package featuring Willie K. Given the enduring popularity of Willie's Y2K Hoku Award-winning Christmas album, "Willie Kalikimaka," he's a great choice.

Willie opens bright and breezy with an up-tempo take on "Jingle Bells" — sung in Hawaiian as well as English, the title is "Jingle Bells/Kani Kani Pele." Willie's scat-singing through the bridge and the multitracked vocals elsewhere give his arrangement more substance than many versions of the song.

Hawaiian Host teams up with Willie K. for a Christmas-themed album. —FL Morris /
"One for the Troops" is a poignant salute to America's war veterans and all who are currently serving. ("May they all return safely home," he sings.) "Christmas Time Again," an original up-tempo rocker, celebrates the ideals of the Christian holiday. "Ave Maria," performed with only an acoustic guitar, is an apt reminder of Willie's ability to transcend genres.

Macadamia nut candy and Hawaiian music are quintessential local products. This Christmas product is a excellent introduction to both.

» "Jingle Bells/Kani Kani Pele"
» "One For The Troops"
» "Christmas Time Again"



Various artists
(Ululoa Productions)

Gender is the common denominator in this collection of recordings by female singers, chanters and poets. Some are already well known — Emma Veary, certainly, and also Lei'ohu Ryder, the Hula Honeys (Ginger Johnson and Robyn Mahealani Kneubuhl) and Kahala Mossman-Smith. Others do not yet enjoy the same visibility, but this compilation should boost their visibility; producer Laurie Rohrer includes biographical information as well as song lyrics and English translations in the beautifully illustrated liner notes booklet.

One instant favorite is "Shores of Hale'iwa," the Hula Honeys' beautiful salute to traditional hapa haole sung with sweet seductive harmonies. On another, "Pua Pakalana," the exquisite voice of Emma Veary blends perfectly with Kneubuhl's in a hapa-haole tribute to Veary's mother.

Pamela Polland opens "Ku'u Manu 'O'o" on an extremely poignant note with a vintage recording of the last living 'o'o. All four species of 'o'o, a bird unique to Hawaii, are now extinct. The song is a touching requiem and a reminder that much more commitment needs to be made here toward saving the endemic species that remain.

Ahumana — Liz Morales and Joni DeMello, plus guitarist Josh Kahula and percussionist Jessie Smith --- brings light Latin rhythms to the project with "Blue Paradise." No question about it, the century-old tradition of hapa-haole music is alive and well in Hawaii.

Another Ahumana contribution, "Swamp Medley," a collection of Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty hits, doesn't fit as well, even when judged by the most inclusive definition of hapa-haole music.

"'Iao Valley Suite," a spoken-word piece by Ayin Adams accompanied by slack key guitarist Jake Rohrer, fits better because the subject is Hawaiian and the guitar enhances the ambience.

Traditionalists will enjoy the contributions of Pi'ilani Ka'awaloa, and producer Rohrer's spirited rendition of "Kauoha Mai."

» "Puka Mai Ka La I Kumukahi"
» "On Golden Sand"
» "Ua Lilinoe"


'Labor of Love'

Steve Grimes
(Steve Grimes/Grimes Tunes)

Hawaii resident luthier (guitar maker) Steve Grimes steps forward as a recording artist with this eclectic aptly titled collection of original songs. They range in style from soft acoustic ballads to swinging electric blues. The subject matter from love and loss to incisive social commentary.

Grimes, a Maui resident for almost 30 years, speaks for many on the Valley Isle with "Moving To Maui," an unflattering commentary on wealthy newcomers whose concept of progress is cutting down trees, building McMansions, and speculating in real estate. The swinging blues arrangement is a perfect platform for Grimes' lyric commentary.

He also comments on current affairs with "That's News To Me," a playful yet insightful piece on what constitutes "news" these days. "Don't want to stay at the Paris Hilton, or the Brittany Hotel," Grimes complains in one verse while a seven-piece band lays down a funky blues-rock groove around him.

Grimes shows his imagination as a lyricist with "What They Say" --- almost every line is a cliche of one kind or another.

Grimes was a musician before he started constructing instruments. He emphasizes his talent there with "Olinda Na Chuva," a beautiful piece of instrumental jazz that features several talented guests. "Timeless Love" also strips things down to feature Grimes' guitar playing, although he sings on this one as well.

The other love songs are no less remarkable. Uptempo or down, they address the myriad permutations of the ever-fascinating emotion in articulate style.

There are also some songs that sound like requiems, but if they are Grimes doesn't share that information in the liner notes.

"Labor of Love" is available at

» "Slow Down"
» "Perfect Stranger"
» "Olinda na Chuva"

—John Berger /

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