POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 9, 2010
Bobby Ingano stands apart among Hawaii's top resident Hawaiian steel guitarists because his interest in the instrument was first piqued by New York pop artist Santo Farina of Santo & Johnny rather than one of the many Hawaiian steel guitar masters. It was Santo & Johnny's recording of "Sleep Walk," a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping million-seller in 1959, that captured Ingano's imagination, and his interests always have extended well beyond the frontiers of Hawaiian music. This album is the first on which he has had complete creative control. His choices embrace several styles of music.
It is a two-man studio project with Ingano and his co-producer, Mark Amundson, playing the various backing instruments heard behind the steel guitar. The two open soft, sweet and traditional with "Darling," one of three Ingano compositions, and explore several genres thereafter -- "Pennies from Heaven," "On a Little Street in Singapore," "Autumn Leaves" and "Hawaiian War Chant" represent the diversity found here.
Ingano and Amundson crank it up with "Ralph's Blues" and "What About It," blues-rock tunes that present the steel guitar in a dramatically different context. Traditionalists will be happy to know that they mellow out again after that and close with a soothing rendition of "Aloha 'Oe."
Manoa DNA -- "Dad" (Lloyd Kawakami) and sons Nick and Alex -- takes another step forward with a third album. While the trio and their backing band have always been solid instrumentally, "Evolution" shows that Alex is evolving as a lyricist who can not only convey earnest honest emotion, but do it within the established principles of rhyme, rhythm and meter. It's a skill that Hawaii's home-grown lyricists sometimes find difficult to master. Alex does so in convincing style.
The threesome opens with one of their strongest new tunes, "Quicksand," which describes a problematic relationship in articulate terms and uses an uneven rhythmic pattern that conveys the emotional turmoil involved. "Dancing in the Rain" is more romantic. It too shows Alex developing his voice as a lyricist and sharpening his focus.
One of the most imaginative selections is a medley -- "Down in Paradise"/"Ka Beauty A'o Manoa" -- that features Tony Conjugacion, the Hoku Award-winning composer of the latter song, as guest vocalist. The first verse of "Down in Paradise" would be perfect as the theme of a "visit Hawaii campaign" by one of our local visitor industry groups. Also notable is the way Conjugacion participates in the arrangement without dominating it as he easily could have.
It's possible the trio was equating "Manoa" with "Paradise" when they put the medley together, since Manoa is the group's home district and Conjugacion's song is about the beauty to be found in the area.
Unfortunately the trio doesn't include that information in the liner notes. Nor do they explain their reasons for doing remakes of "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Love the One You're With." To date no one has done any of Michael Jackson's songs better than he did them himself or improved on Stephen Stills' musical signature.
On the other hand, Manoa DNA always seems to do well playing Hawaiian standards as contemporary acoustic pop. Their rendition of "Green Rose Hula" is no exception.
David Kahiliaulani Kuhia Ka'io
The fragmentation of the record industry is playing out in beneficial ways for would-be recording artists who no longer have to sell a conventional record label on their commercial potential to make a recording. Advances in computer software have made it possible for almost anyone to be a "recording artist," and the exponential acceptance of downloads as a platform for selling recorded music has changed the record industry immensely.
And yet, just as traditional printed books strike most people as being more substantive than a book that consists of words on a screen, there is still an added level of credibility when an artist releases a project on a traditional "physical CD" rather than as download-only. If nothing else, it shows that someone had enough faith in the project to make the front-end investment to get it out that way.
Multi-Hoku Award-winning recording artist/producer Kenneth Makuakane gets the credit as for having made that investment on behalf of David Kahiliaulani Kuhia Ka'io -- "DKKK" for short. It is a fine debut, unpretentious and well crafted. Contemporary Hawaiian music is the better for it being available.
Ka'io is a traditionalist in style whose work here includes several Hawaiian-language originals, hapa-haole originals about Waimanalo and Hilo, two compositions by Kihei de Silva and a classic by Liliuokalani. Makuakane is one of his studio musicians, and he and Ka'io keep the arrangements uncluttered. Guitars and bass are the primary instruments with percussive undercurrents accenting the rhythms.
Local songwriters have written about the rain in Hilo for generations; Ka'io's composition "Old Hilo Rain" is a fine addition to the list.
All that's missing is the essential cultural information: Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and background information of the songs -- or the address of a website where that information is available.
Traditionalist Hawaiian music usually has an edge at the Hoku Awards, and that puts Ka'io among the front-runners in the Best New Artist(s) category in 2011.