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Shimabukuro shows bro's not ohana's sole talent

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

'Write Her a Song'

Bruce Shimabukuro

Bruce Shimabukuro — "B.S." to his friends — was destined at birth to go through life as "Jake's younger brother," but as a musician and recording artist, he has carved out a distinct career of his own.

Jake has been a solo act since he and Lopaka Colon dissolved their post-Pure Heart group almost 10 years ago. Bruce enjoys working with other musicians. Randy Aloya, Michael Grande, Chiyo Flynn, Jeff Kloetzel and Seann Carroll are some of the guests who sit in with him on this project. Johnny Helm, Eric Lee and songwriter Brian Ishii add vocals to one track each. "It's Just You," the song Lee guests on, shows that Shimabukuro can write meaningful lyrics as well as melodies.

And Shimabukuro doesn't only write lyrics, he can also sing them. "Hypnotized" is a fine platform for him as a vocalist. Shimabukuro is still first and foremost a ukulele player, and three instrumentals provide solid benchmarks of his talent on the little four-string. He plays it fast and hard on "Shut Down," while "Just Right" shows he can lay back, and play soft and sweet, letting each note breathe. "You Belong with Me," yes, the Taylor Swift signature, displays his skill at reworking pop hits into ukulele material.

"Write Her a Song" is available at his gigs. For more information, see

» "You Belong With Me"

'We Go to Hilo'

Glen Goto and Friends
(Sweet Brown Pitbull)

Keyboardist Glen Goto's new group is the musical equivalent of a solar system. Goto — leader, songwriter, primary musician, sometime vocalist — is the "sun" around which the other members of the group orbit. On second thought, given the credentials that some of the "planets" bring to the project, it might be more accurate to equate the group to a galaxy. Rachel Gonzales, Randy Lorenzo and Zanuck Lindsey are three of the group's voices. Garin Poliahu and David Choy contribute to Goto's rich, multilayered instrumental arrangements.

The title track is a great introduction to Goto, his group and their work. In terms of subject matter it's a contemporary hapa-haole song — the subject is Hawaii, the lyrics are in English. In sound and format it represents one of the myriad varieties of modern jazz fusion music that have been popular here since the '80s. Goto sings of going to "the city by the bay" — Hilo, not San Francisco — while a catchy Latin-flavored arrangement percolates around him.

Goto also describes the experiences of Big Island living with "We Go to Volcano," a song about taking a trip to "the Madame Pele show" with ti leaves, "offerings of gin, and humble attitudes." Randy Lorenzo of Peter Moon Band fame adds a solid soulful edge to two songs, "Meaning of My Life" and "Need a Helping Hand."

Although 2011 has more than five months more to run, this album ensures it will be remembered as a good year for local jazz releases.

» "A Friendship For A Lifetime"

'No Ku‘uipo'

(Ululoa Productions)

Ahumanu — singer-songwriters Joni Noela DeMello and Liz Konohia Morales — checks in from Maui with this pleasant collection of modern Hawaiian and hapa-haole songs. Most of the duo's originals describe their activities on the Valley Isle: surfing, family gatherings, going to church. Several of the standards tie in to their lives on Maui as well.

For instance, Morales explains in the liner notes that members of her family used to sing "Hamoa" while sitting around the kitchen table at the family home in Haou, and that Oliver Kelly taught her the version of "Makalapua" that they do on the album. Background information like this provides valuable insights into the music, which is especially important for Hawaiian music, as so much knowledge has been lost.

"Nahenahe" (sweet, melodious) describes the duo's smooth harmonies. DeMello and Morales add variety by performing as solo voices. Morales is the primary musician; she plays guitar, acoustic and electric bass, ukulele, chimes and Tahitian banjo. The distinctive sound of the Tahitian instrument catches the ear on several selections. Acoustic bass is DeMello's main instrument, although she also plays guitar and chimes.

"Ha‘o‘u," about the Konohia family home, is one of the most promising numbers. The arrangement showcases the duo's strength as vocalists. The English lyrics, describing a romance to last a lifetime, are accessible to all.

» "No Ku'uipo"

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