POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 18, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 3:21 p.m. HST, Jun 20, 2010
Here's proof again that original rock is alive and well throughout the 50th State. Rumbletone - Dale Dombrow, Mark McKamey, Paul Ventura and T.J. Wead - represents Kauai in fine style with this 12-song calling card.
There's no telling from one year to the next if the members of the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) are going to embarrass themselves or not when they choose the winner in the Rock Album category, but Rumbletone should be on the final ballot in 2011. Barring a new album by Henry Kapono or Jack Johnson, they could go all the way.
Ventura is their resident composer as well as the lead guitarist and producer. Nine songs are completely his work, two others are collaborations with Dombrow, and the other is a group effort. The results represent a broad spectrum of "classic rock" ranging from mid-'60s English rock and psychedelia to alt-rock and grunge - from a touch of Cream to a hint of Nirvana, but without directly borrowing those groups' riffs or melodies.
"Imagine That" stands out in delivering an ironic message of hope in encouraging the listener to image a better world. "Someday I'll Be Seeing You" closes the album with a plea for a second chance. It's a song that will resonate with anyone who is hoping that a break-up won't be permanent - and shows that Ventura has a romantic side as well.
Hiram Olsen, Dennis Keohokalole and Casey Olsen
Greg Sardinha is contributing to the preservation and perpetuation of 20th century Hawaiian and hapa-haole music in two ways these days.
He's a member of the very short A-list of Hawaii steel guitarists, and in that respect is an important link between the masters of previous generations and the even shorter list of younger virtuosos, such as Jeff Au Hoy and Halehaku Seabury-Akaka.
Sardinha also plays an important role as the owner of his own record label. This collection of hapa-haole classics is the second in a series from Keala, and the presence of steel guitarist Casey Olsen on this one makes it a must-buy for steel guitar fans world-wide.
Generalist fans of traditional 20th-century hapa-haole music will enjoy it as well. Guitarist Hiram Olsen, Casey's father and a veteran of decades of work in Waikiki, leads the trio through 12 hapa-haole standards arranged in the traditional nahenahe (sweet, melodious) style. "Hawaii Calls" is delivered with all the old-time romance intact; Casey's lead work on the bridge caps a beautiful arrangement.
The trio slips a surprise into "Sophisticated Hula": The song starts off at a languid tempo but picks it up after the bridge. Old-timers will easily visualize hula dancers' ti-leaf skirts flying through the final verse.
"In Church In Old Hawaiian Town" and "Pretty Red Hibiscus" stand out in showcasing the threesome's strengths as musicians and a vocal trio. "Little Brown Gal," "Waikiki" and "Beyond The Reef" are also nice.
There is one important area where Sardinha could improve future albums in the series. Passing on the history of Hawaiian and hapa-haole songs is essential, but all that Sardinha and co-producer John Iervolino provide here are the composers' credits. Most of these songs have stories behind them that should not be forgotten. It also would have been a professional courtesy to the musicians to include a photo of the trio and some information about the members instead of leaving an entire panel blank. After all, these "newly recorded songs of Hawaii's classics" could not have been made without them.
Neos Productions provided exposure for many young local entry-level recording artists in the '90s, but with the market for traditional CD albums imploding and legal downloads growing in popularity, the label has become known for low-budget recycling projects targeted on that shrinking share of the music-buying public still willing to buy an entire CD to get one or two must-have songs.
Yes, there was a time many years ago when most people bought oldies that way, but these days almost everyone under 30 buys songs they like individually and skip the rest. That fact makes the format obsolete, but producer Patti St. John casts a wide net by including hit songs by artists from other labels.
Be warned: Jawaiian rhythms dominate this retrospective.
Several have aged well. "Crazy" by Kapena and Baba B's "Big Boy In Love" still resonate. Norm Thompson's autobiographical "Hawaiian Born" is honest and heartfelt. "Hawaiian Lands," by Bruddah Waltah & Island Afternoon, is a memento from the last Jawaiian album to win a Hoku Award - until a special category was created for reggae-derivative music in 1998.
Others remind us of the appalling banality of so much Jawaiian music - the pretentious attempts at Afro-Caribbean accents, and the unimaginative remakes of Top 40 classics.
Lorna Lim as a Jawaiian artist is one of the best surprises. Her hapa-haole Jawaiian original, "Ku'uipo, Aloha Wau Ia 'Oe," is one of the better tracks.
Recordings by the Ka'ala Boys, Robi Kahakalau, Reality and Local Jamm likewise provide welcome reminders that there was more going musically here in the '90s than Jawaiian music.
Neos anthologies provide more information on the person who did the cover art than on the artists whose music is being sold. This one is no exception. There is no information on the significance of the songs or the artists who made these recordings. Composers' credits are included for every song except "Crazy," so we'll fill the missing information: The actual title is "Whatcha Talking 'Bout" and it was written by Stevie Wonder.