Life In These Islands
(One Hawaii OHCD 1001)
Kaukahi's debut album includes performances by two high-profile guests, but the quartet -- Barrett Awai, Kawika Kahiapo, Walt Keale and Dean Wilhelm -- stands securely on the strength of its own talent. The album opens with the title song, an idealized portrait of life in Hawaii that establishes their command of smooth four-part Hawaiian harmonies.
"E Ola Pono," written by Kahiapo, Wilhelm and Awai for the Kai Makana Foundation, brings to mind the Peter Moon Band and Apo & Beazley with its call for canoe paddlers to "make a stand, united hand in hand," to preserve Hawaii's delicate ocean environment.
A spirited rendition of "'Ulili E" reaffirms their strength as vocalists and shows their ability to interpret the work of other writers. "There is a Way," written by Awai, is an enigmatic song that could be addressed to a lover, but could just as easily be an expression of religious faith. Several other songs also have spiritual themes.
As for the celebrity guests, Jack Johnson sits in on "Constellations," and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom joins them on "Lei Ho'okahi."
Festival Time In Japan
Tokyo All-Star Orchestra
(Hana Ola HOCD 74000)
George Ching targeted Hawaii's Japanese-American community with a series of albums on his 49th State Hawaii label between the end of World War II and 1959. Japanese recordings were hard to get, and Ching met the demand for pop hits, folk melodies and songs popular in Japan during the war. This album is one of several by a group he dubbed the Tokyo All-Star Orchestra.
HanaOla released an anthology of this material, "Favorite Japanese Instrumentals," in 2002, but has since been reissuing Ching's Japanese catalog as individual albums with a list price of $9.99. The series has been popular with local Japanese Americans old enough to remember the 1950s, and this one will be no exception.
Ching made these recordings for an audience that spoke Japanese and didn't need information about the songs' meaning or significance. It seems that he also failed to identify musicians or credit composers, because none of that information is found here, either.
HanaOla is known for the extensive annotation it provides with its full-price Hawaiian reissues, but even without the usual HanaOla liner notes booklet, these recordings will be of interest to their intended audience.
Tunes With Love
(Kekela Sounds KS1008)
Mark Coleman is one of several Honolulu Star-Bulletin staffers who enjoy parallel careers as musicians and recording artists. This album is a reissue of a 1997 project that presented him as solo artist rather than as a member of Potato Cannon. Coleman enlisted a small group of friends as his studio band and played in the spare blues-rock style popular for years at Anna Bannana's and similar local bars. The recordings have aged well.
The pain inflicted by his first divorce seems to have been a major inspiration for his writing. The first six songs describe various aspects of heartbreak, loss, rejection, the emotional trauma of seeing his ex with someone else, and the inconvenience of having to buy a new coffee maker after his ex took the old one.
The arrangements suggest musical horizons that embrace Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ricky Nelson, Stealers Wheel, Dr. Hook, the Rolling Stones and basic white rock-and-blues. There's also a song that borrows a lot from "Heartbreak Hotel."
, 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