Record Reviews

By John Berger,
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Trio shows promise on 'Feel It'

'Feel' the pure pop.
Producer-performer Lester Gantan and composer-performer Cory Oliveros wrote all but three songs on "Feel It," an 11-song sampler by Cory, Lokelani & Travis.

Gantan knows the local pop market. Oliveros' "Hold On" and "With My Love" should do well here. An alternative "bonus track" mix of the latter song shows Oliveros has the talent to grow beyond local pop.

Lokelani (Mitchell) distinguishes herself as a featured vocalist. "Hey Local Boy" should be getting play on I-94; it's similar to the local pop sound of I-94's Lori Salvatera but more romantic. "Let's Live for Today" is less of a "kids'" song and beautifully sung. Her voice is the stuff of male fantasies, and she could become a major local artist with luck and the right material.

The high-pitched drone of a synthesized string section defines the music as soft local pop, but a straightforward rendition of "Ikona" adds diversity.

Finding My Way By B.B. Shawn (Poi Records), CD

Pseudo-reggae doesn't work.
THIS debut album will appeal most quickly to diehard "Jawaiians" with a taste for remakes. Sham-rasta accents percolate through several selections on B.B. Shawn's recording. Caribbean rhythms predominate.

The album opens weak. "I Shot the Sheriff" was a white man's indulgence when Clapton cribbed it from Bob Marley 22 years ago. Aside for a few references to "ragamuffin deejays" Shawn offers no new insights either.

The most interesting songs aren't identified with a particular artist. "Henehene" and "Why Walk When You Can Fly" offer cultural diversity and a hint of Shawn's range. So does a straightforward treatment of "Vaya Con Dios."

The important thing is that Shawn has a good voice. He's at his best singing straight, without the sham accent. He also has a creative and imaginative mentor in producer Henry Kapono. The strengths of their collaboration outweigh the album's weaknesses.

Stepping Stones By Roslyn (Mistral), CD

This album was released too late to be eligible for the 1996 Hoku Awards. It would a best bet to win the "Religious" category otherwise.

The songs aren't hymns in the traditional sense but contemporary celebrations of Christian faith. Almost all are originals. "I Will Follow You" and "My God" are particularly strong.

"Dare To Be a Daniel" examines the challenge of holding on to your religious beliefs at the risk of losing friends who may think God is corny.

Roslyn displayed her talents as vocalist and composer on her underrated 1992 debut, "The Wishing Tree." David Kauahikaua, her arranger and primary musician, returns in the same roles here. Considering his contributions to "Stepping Stones" he deserves a Hoku for this album too.

The Waimea Music Festival By various artists (Panini), CD

Most of the Panini catalog was brought back in print on compact disc with great care several years ago. "The Waimea Music Festival" album straggled in without fanfare considerably later but shouldn't be overlooked.

The event was recorded in the spring of 1974. The performers are a who's who of the grassroots stars of the first Renaissance: Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, Genoa Keawe, "Atta" Isaacs and the Sunday Manoa.

Originally released on vinyl as a double-album, the 21 songs fit easily on a single disc. Concise liner notes put the event in historical perspective.

"'Alana" By Kawika (Pono Records), CD

DAVID Kawika Kahiapo and producer Pierre Grill have done everything right on " 'Alana." The disc is a celebration of love, family, religious faith and Hawaiian heritage, and their choice of material, arrangements, use of guest artists, annotation and album art all help create a sharply focused musical portrait of the artist.

Most of the songs are originals; the significance of the others is explained in the liner notes. The arrangements showcase Kahiapo as singer and musician; he plays all the string instruments while Grill shows commendable restraint on the synthesizers.

Chinky Mahoe is the featured voice on one of Kahiapo's Hawaiian-language originals, but the other guests remain in the background.

"Friends" By Na Leo Pilimehana (Na Leo Pilimehana), CD

THE album that launched the group's comeback as a trio in 1993 has been rereleased with a new title to capitalize on the popularity of what is now the title song, "Friends."

Controversy erupted when the Board of Education prohibited "Friends" at high school graduation ceremonies because it mentions "the Lord." An instrumental/"karaoke version" minus the trio's vocals has been added here.

"Jennifer" By Jennifer Barber (MGC Records), CD

THE karaoke circuit is spawning one new recording artist after another, but Jennifer Barber and her production team have created an album that's far above those thinly mixed karaoke-style efforts or the bland synthetic sound of generic local pop.

First of all, Barber has a vocal presence that doesn't come from singing languid ballads or overwrought tear-jerkers in a karaoke bar. There's a deep sexy smokiness to it that hints of women who have had major national chart hits but she doesn't sound like she's trying to copy them.

Barber writes memorable lyrics in a comfortable range of styles. "Whisper to Me" and "Where Are You Today" are two of the best songs on the album; she penned both.

Some of the tracks would benefit from greater texturing, but overall the album is a beautiful calling card. If talent and commercial appeal count for anything Barber is going places!

"No Better Time Than Now" By Justin (Neos Productions), CD

JUSTIN (full name Justin Kawika Young) is a promising young singer and composer.

He wrote six of the 10 songs here, and will be a composer to watch in the future. His originals are as good as the two pop songs that he didn't write - "One Year Together" and "Now I'm Free." Two Hawaiian songs by other writers - the traditional "Ikona" and "Pau'oa Liko Ka Lehua" by Emma Bush - show that he can go beyond local pop.

"Ikona" showcases a fine falsetto. On the debit side, "One Year Together" is a good lyric concept squandered on a generic Jawaiian arrangement and lame imitation-Jamaican rapping. Even with that misfire, Justin should prove to be more than a "flavor of the week" local teen vocalist.

"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.

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