Record Reviews

By John Berger,
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Friday, December 20, 1996

Late release
brightens Christmas

Kiho‘alu Christmas: Various artists, Dancing Cat Records

HERE is another gem from George Winston's Dancing Cat organization. Like every album in the "Hawaiian Slack Key Masters" series "Kiho"alu Christmas" is a perfect introduction to slack key and complete with information about the history of each selection and the tuning used. The artists include almost every past participant in the series still alive, plus Cindy Combs, Joanie Komatsu and Bla Pahinui.

Christmas Once More in Hawai‘i Nei: Nueva Vida featuring Gail Mack, Island Rainbow Productions, CD single

THE title song of this four-song disc was originally released as a "postcard record" in 1986. It is a welcome addition to the discography of contemporary island Christmas music. Gail Mack is best remembered as a member of George Street; these songs show how easily she could have become a solo act.

Her voice makes a second original Christmas song - "Our Island Christmas" - memorable also. Composer/producer Gordon Okimoto takes over the lead on a third; "A Christmas Day In The Sun" is bright and catchy bubble gum. Obscure no longer, these songs should be getting radio play for years to come.

Kiawe Skies: Carie Nicol, Carie Nicol

THE multi-talented Carie Nicol follows up her 1993 debut album with this well-crafted collection of songs about life in paniolo country. She is creative and resourceful as composer and arranger.

"Go Hawaiian" is a catchy and rollicking suggestion that the best antidote for stress is the natural beauty of the islands. "Hanakapiai Lullaby" and "Kualoa Picnic" also share her love for rural Hawaii. With "Dressed In Red" she honors Pele, while "Cry of the Wilderness" expresses her wish to return to the time when Hawaii was an independent nation.

Nicol plays piano, bass, synthesizer and guitar, and shows imagination and restraint in employing other musicians to embellish her songs. The musical textures are varied, the arrangements diverse.

Lady of My Life: Bobby Baniaga, Kalena Records

MORE than one karaoke star has become a recording artist. Bobby Baniaga is one of them. His debut album is better than other karaoke alumni offerings, but he's been singing with one band or another since 1975.

Half the songs are originals; all but one was written for his wife. The rest are songs he just likes to sing. Baniaga's use of live musicians also makes his album more than a karaoke singer's project, but several arrangements could do without faux-string tracks.

The originals are the most interesting. "Kanoelani" was written for his daughter. The title track could easily become a karaoke bar favorite.

Na Mele Hemoheno: Ho'opi'i Brothers, Poki

The second Ho'opi'i Brothers album released in less than two months is a "best of" anthology of 17 songs culled from four albums they recorded for Poki in the mid-1970s and their final Poki project, "Our Gift of Song," recorded in 1990.

Song by song information on the selections would have made this a better buy. However, the Brothers' beautiful falsetto harmonies transcend language.

Bradda “B”: Billy Rodrigues, Volcano Island Records

Will the real Billy Rodrigues please stand up? The vocalist and primary composer of I'land Boiz teamed with producer Rick Asher Keefer to debut as a solo artist. He and Keefer jump all over the musical map. Rodrigues has a smooth falsetto and romantic delivery, but a good deal of the album is squandered on generic remakes and "Jawaiian" cultural plagiarism.

Is there no one in Hawaii capable of writing a reggae song with Hawaiian lyrics?

The question is: Does Rodrigues have the talent and vision to become a one-of-a-kind original or is he just another Jawaiian bar band singer at heart?"

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.

See Record Reviews for some of John Berger's past reviews.

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