They open with the unmistakable riff from "El Paso," Marty Robbins’ Grammy Award-winning 1959 chart-topper, but most of what follows is Hawaiian as ‘Ike Pono — Michael Lowe (guitars/vocals), Stanton Oshiro (ukulele/vocals) and Bobby Yu (bass/vocals) — returns with this collection of contemporary island music. The trio’s emphasis on acoustic instrumentation gives their work a solid Hawaiian-style foundation. No doubt about it, these guys can jam.
Lowe is the resident composer but Yu contributes two memorable numbers. "Full Circle Rainbow," a hapa-haole song, describes the rare visual effect in spiritual terms as "a miracle of God I had never seen" while on a journey involving a funeral. "Kela Nalo" showcases the rapid picking and strumming of Lowe and Oshiro on a Hawaiian-language tale of annoying flies at a picnic.
The trio pays homage to earlier songwriters with a soothing arrangement of "Shells" and a crisp version of "He Wahine U’i."
A remake of "Ventura Highway" offers no fresh insights, but the trio replaces George Harrison’s Hindu devotionals with similar Hawaiian-language Christian phrases within an otherwise unremarkable take on "My Sweet Lord."
‘Vamonos de Fiesta (Let’s Go Party)’
(RSA Music Hawaii)
Nicaraguan-born percussionist Rolando Sanchez has been one of Hawaii’s most prominent Latin music artists for more than two decades. Back in the late-’80s, when Hawaii’s homegrown Latin music scene consisted primarily of folkloric Puerto Rican jibaro music, and most local Latin music artists and promoters seemed content to keep their work within that ethnic community, Sanchez reached out to mainstream audiences and took his music beyond the traditional venues for Hispanic music here.
Much has changed since then, and Latin-American music of all genres has never been as accessible here as it is now. As for Sanchez — aka El Rey de la Salsa en Hawaii ("The King of Salsa in Hawaii") — this eight-song calling card finds him on top of his game, presenting Latin music in English and Spanish.
Consider the Spanish songs his "roots music" and those with English lyrics as his crossover material. Knowledge of Spanish isn’t a prerequisite for ballroom dancers, but including a few songs in English opens broader markets. "Don’t Break My Heart," featuring vocalist Judi Palmeira, is especially effective in that respect.
Sanchez and his musicians play several styles of highly danceable, uptempo Latin dance music, but he closes on a smooth "romantica" note with a song his father wrote for his mother. Pedro Haro, best known to date in Hawaii as an actor, distinguishes himself as the featured vocalist.
Back in the 1980s, Sanchez maintained a full-time band of top-line musicians and vocalists. The current market for live music here doesn’t allow that, and this is an ensemble project with Sanchez leading several combinations of musicians.
It seems no matter who is behind him, Sanchez is still "El Rey."
Conscious Roots’ eponymous debut album brings the musical traditions of a talented family forward another generation. Drummer/percussionist Jazzton Lyons is the grandson of Beverly Mendoza Orbello, longtime lead vocalist of the Nomads (later renamed Aura). Lyons’ parents are both veteran entertainers, and his stepfather, Wendell Ching, has extensive credits as a musician, studio engineer and record producer. Lyons now joins them in being a recording artist and, with his partners — Damon Cottrell (guitar/lead vocals), Daniel Cottrell (bass) and Tyler Teixeira (keyboards/ukulele/lead vocals) — is on the verge of local success.
The quartet specializes in original compositions, while indulging in the basic cliches of entry level Jawaiian music. Imitation Jamaican accents and the substitution of "me" for "I" pop up with unfortunate frequency.
The good news is that when vocalists Damon Cottrell and Teixeira perform without the fake accents their natural pop appeal comes through.
The two are also the resident songwriters. They lead off with one of Cottrell’s compositions, "Me Love You Long Time," which, fortunately for them, has no connection to the porn-film hook from 2 Live Crew’s iconic "Me So Horny." The song turns out to be a doleful yet romantic promise to love a girl for a "long time" even though she doesn’t return the feeling. It is a situation unfortunate people of all ages can relate to.
The guys provide a glimpse of a broader repertoire with "Take My Hand." It is a well-constructed song with pop rhythms rather than Jawaiian and features Teixeira on ukulele. Several other cuts also let them show their strengths as musicians.
A remake of a song by the Japanese reggae duo Dry & Heavy is an odd choice amid the originals and shouldn’t be needed to get this young group local radio play. Their originals have all the Jawaiian hooks necessary for that.