Family, culture and tradition are the themes that Big Island slack key guitarist John Keawe incorporates in his latest album. The Hoku Award-winner has never been one to court mainstream acclaim but the consistent high quality of his work here reaffirms his stature as a musician and songwriter.
Most of the melodies are originals; some were written for family members. Others reflect the inspiration found in travel, whale watching, or by just observing a sand crab on the beach. Ki ho'alu traditions provide the musical foundation, but Keawe suggests the musical impact of Mexican vaqueros by overdubbing a second guitar on "Juan & Keoni." He also does a fine job as a vocalist on two standards, "Hi'ilawe" and "Ku'u Lei Awapuhi."
Keawe preserves the culture by explaining the significance of the songs and by revealing family history: An ancestor shortened the family name from Keaweualani to Keawe several generations ago.
Hula Records International
Slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson is so well known after three albums with shakuhachi player Riley Lee that it may come as a surprise to find that this is his first album as a soloist. Surprise or not, it is well worth the time he spent on it. "Kahealani" is a memorable debut and a perfect introduction to Peterson as an artist and composer as well.
Purists will enjoy the clarity of his technique. "Hawai'i Aloha" and "Green Rose" are handy benchmarks for those wishing to appraise his approach to familiar material. On the other hand, the use of steel strings on "Ki Ho'alu Processional," the jazzy nuances found in "Hulihuli Slack Key" and the inclusion of an Argentine-style song by a French composer, add diversity and reflect broader musical horizons. Annotation by several contributors enhance the musical experience by providing information on everything, from the stories behind the songs to the significance of the cover art.
"He Aloha No ’O Honolulu"
The Kahauanu Lake Trio
While it's almost exactly 20 years since the Kahauanu Lake Trio officially retired after almost 30 years as Waikiki headliners, interest in "Mr. K" and the group remains high. That makes this latest archival reissue on CD welcome. The combination of Lake's distinctive ukulele playing with the trio's trademark vocal and instrumental arrangements make them one of the most significant and distinctive Hawaiian groups of the 20th century. Each song is a classic, perfect for hula.
Annotator Jean Sullivan suggests that the title of the trio's fifth album may have been chosen in part to reflect the fact that, by 1971, they had found time to play some dates on the neighbor islands. Sullivan also reveals some of the kaona (hidden meaning) contained in the trio's exquisite acoustic renditions of Hawaiian classics, ranging in subject matter from "Kaulana Na Pua" to "E Huli Makou." Reissues of vintage Hawaiian albums don't come any better than this!
John Berger, who has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Today section on Fridays for the latest reviews. Contact John Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org