By John Berger, Special to the Star-Bulletin
"The Music of George Helm -- A True Hawaiian" George Helm (Volume 11, Cords Classic Collector Series), CD, Tape
The recordings George Helm made in the final year of his life befit his status as a contemporary Hawaiian legend. Painstakingly remastered and repackaged by Michael Cord and Harry B. Soria Jr., the recording shows that Helm also should be remembered as an accomplished vocalist and musician.
Cord's series is rightly known for its high quality. The work here is excellent. Soria's annotation puts the recording in historical perspective; Mel Masuda's original 1977 liner notes are included as well and capture the spirit of the era.
The selections are almost all Hawaiian. A few hapa-haole classics add variety. Picking highlights from 24 selections is difficult, but "Kalama'ula," "Waikiki" and "Kauoha Mai" are certainly among them. Helm's brief on-stage comments add a sense of the original live setting to the collection.
Helm received an unofficial posthumous Hoku Award in 1978. This album will be eligible for "Best Anthology" in 1997. Expect it to win.
"Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style" Keola Beamer (Music of Polynesia/Mountain Apple Company), CD
Recorded and produced by Jack de Mello in 1972, this album captures the multi-talented Hoku Award-winning Beamer at the beginning of his career. The disc includes 11 songs - including Sol Bright's "Hawaiian Cowboy," R. Alex Anderson's "Lovely Hula Hands" and four originals penned by Beamer - which sound quite contemporary almost a quarter-century after this recording was made.
"From The Heart" Mary Barboza (HB Productions), CD
Mary Barboza surfaced several years ago singing karaoke but her debut album will be a pleasant surprise. First, Barboza has a beautiful voice and has had several years experience singing with live musicians. Second, producer/guitarist Bob St. John-Payne did reasonably well in combining live musicians with synthesizers; the arrangements are more substantial than karaoke tracks. And, all but one of the songs is new.
Barboza could have done an entire album of standards, but the originals are arresting, expository pop ballads rather than tight four-bar Top 40 songs. The one exception, "Feel Like A Fool" shows that she can handle uptempo dance music too. In short, this is one album by a karaoke "graduate" that's of interest to more than the artist's family and friends.
"Gordon Broad's Tropi Cool Jazz" Gordon Broad (Tropi Cool Jazz Records), CD
Imagine a indictment of American complicity in the criminal overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian government in 1893 written in smooth jazzy pop and you've got "Liliuokalani," the most surprising track on Gordon Broad's aptly named new album.
The songs are all Broad originals; several have Hawaiian lyrics by Henry "Wongie" Kanahele. How welcome to hear the living language of Hawai'i in an American jazz format!
And the arrangements will delight local jazz fans. David Choy, Bruce Hamada and Tennyson Stephens are among the talents who bring the year's first significant local jazz album to life.
John Berger, who has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Home Zone section on Fridays for the latest reviews.