"Hawaiian Slack Key Kings"
(Rhythm & Roots RR-0310)
Slack-key compilation albums have been Grammy winners in the two years that there has been a Best Hawaiian Music Album category. This new compilation, produced by Milton and Chris Lau, is one of several that could be among the finalists next spring. If so, it will represent Hawaii well. If not, it is still a fine showcase that includes guitarists not often thought of as slack-key artists.
Ledward Kaapana and Dennis Kamakahi stand out as the unquestioned "kings" in this 15-song sampler. Makana, "Uncle Bobby" Moderow of Maunalua and Michael Kaawa are also established talents, while Danny Carvalho shows what the next generation of slack-key artists are capable of.
Also participating are Jack Johnson, Tahitian guitarist Florent Atem and Glen Smith of Ho'okena. Milton Lau takes a turn as well.
Milton Lau's comments on slack key and the participating artists, and information on the slack-key tunings used on each song, complete this excellent album.
"Return to Romance"
Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawaii
(The Mountain Apple Co. MACD 8573)
"Romance" generally equates to "languid" on this long-anticipated project by Honolulu Symphony Pops conductor Matt Catingub. A multitalented artist -- he sings, plays piano and sax, as well as composes and arranges music -- Catingub enlisted several of his favorite Hawaiian vocalists, and a couple of Pops artists, to record with a 39-piece orchestra. The selections are almost entirely pop standards, and these are generally the best fit for Catingub and his guests.
And so, Jimmy Borges soars on a beautiful rendition of "When I Fall in Love," Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom makes a smooth return to her pop-music roots with "What Are You Doing the Rest of My Life?" and "The Very Thought of You," and Keali'i Reichel displays unsuspected pop talent on "How Deep is the Ocean."
Catingub distinguishes himself as a solo artist on some tracks and in duets with Gilliom, Na Leo and Dave Koz on others.
His arrangements are so consistently soothing and relaxing that the Brothers Cazimero's upbeat hapa-haole version of "Let There Be Love" breaks the mood. On the other hand, Na Leo's languorous treatment of "Can't Help Falling in Love" could use a bit more energy. The harmonies are beautiful, but there's no sense of passion.
(The Mountain Apple Co. MACD 2113)
With less than three months until Christmas, and Halloween and Thanksgiving nothing more than speed bumps in between, it's not too soon to welcome new local Christmas albums. This is the third for Robert and Roland, and another delightful collection. Everything fits, nothing disappoints.
Several selections will bring to mind the Brothers' Christmas concerts at Blaisdell Arena and Bishop Museum. Others are newly written. They approach them all with their usual zest.
Few local artists should attempt to redo "Jingle Bell Rock," but the Cazimeros pull it off and then segue neatly into "Jingle Bells." They also put a fresh spin on "Up on the Housetop" by adding the Drifters' 1963 hit, "Up on the Roof" -- but, alas, don't acknowledge Gerry Goffin and Carole King in the composers' credits. One small lump of coal for the Caz, please!
, 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. Reach John Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org