Where You Are
All Christian music written with the sincere desire to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" serves its intended purpose, but there is a significant difference aesthetically between Thomas A. Dorsey's enduring gospel classic, "(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)," and many local Christian writers' awkward although earnest efforts.
Koa proves much better than average with this collection of songs -- all but one of them originals -- that describe his experiences as a contemporary Christian. Koa's command of the all-important principles of rhyme and meter enhances the impact of his lyrics, and the catchy guitar-rock arrangements of the first opening numbers get things off to an impressive start.
Koa describes the experience of seeing God's presence in all good things ("Hope Will Find a Way"), speaks of God's place in his life ("I Thrive") and eloquently expresses the doubts felt by many ("God, If You're Real"). "Inside Out" confronts the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.
Koa also shines with an imaginative arrangement of "Grace Like Rain." The song is credited to two other writers who added lyrics to John Newton's 18th century hymn "Amazing Grace," dropped Newton's name from the credits, and then changed the title. Koa places greater emphasis on the lyrics than the melody, and in doing so better conveys the sense of being "lost" that inspired Newton to write them more than 200 years ago.
Koa switches from electric rock to a softer acoustic style near the midpoint of the album, and maintains it thereafter. The subject matter changes as well. "Adam & Eve" is almost certainly about romantic love -- finding the one perfect love of a lifetime here on Earth. The songs from there on also appear to be about interpersonal relationships rather than his relationship with God.
The liner notes provide no background on the experiences that inspired Koa. That leaves the listener to ponder the lyrics of "Great Day in Heaven" as he sings of anticipating the day when he'll be "new in Heaven ... and meet my son for the first time." Perhaps some experiences are too personal to share.
Do the final two songs, "Here I Am" and "Let Go," describe Christ's unconditional love, or Koa's unconditional support for the woman he loves? Whatever the explanation, they close the album on a tranquil and soothing note.
From The Heart
(Natural Vibrations - NV0005)
Two-time Hoku Award winners Natural Vibrations could easily make it a three-peat with this collection of original reggae music. It's been four years since "The Circle," the 2004 winner in the Reggae Album category, and the sextet has maintained the creative momentum. Give 'em credit for eschewing generic remakes, keeping the use of bogus imitation-Jamaican accents to a minimum, and avoiding most of the other problematic trappings of Jawaiian/ "island" music.
"Soon Come" is one of the early standouts as the group uses traditional reggae imagery in commenting on issues facing people here. "Okana Road" also addresses issues of local concern.
A second facet of their repertoire is represented by songs that describe a sex act in relatively explicit terms.
The group addresses romantic male/female relationships elsewhere. One of the romantic songs, "Where Is the Love" -- which is an original song, not the Donny Hathaway hit, albeit with a similar theme -- is an excellent showcase for vocalist Penidean Pua'auli as well.
Local reggae and Jawaiian acts often lack the essential foundation provided by a tight rhythm section, but that's not a problem here. "Soon Come" is one of the best numbers in that respect, but the Vibes' rhythm section is an asset throughout.
, 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