Island Mele


POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009

”;True Love Don't Weep”;

James Hill & Anne Davison

; It has been natural in recent years to see ukulele virtuoso James Hill as the Canadian equivalent of Jake Shimabukuro. They're close in age, they're both polished performers with formidable technical skills and they've each spent a significant amount of time deliberately redefining the outer limits of the instrument's capabilities. Hill's first album with cellist Anne Davison shows that he has the vision and imagination of Makana as well. No, he hasn't switched to guitar, but his boldness in placing the ukulele in a folk/acoustic country context brings to mind Makana's success in applying ki ho'alu techniques to other styles of world music.

On several selections, Hill plays the ukulele as the featured instrument amid other strings: banjo, bouzouki, violin or cello. The results often sound like North American folk music, but listen closely, and the uke is there.

“;Sakura, Sakura,”; a duet for ukulele and cello, takes a familiar melody in unexpected directions with an arrangement that suggests the blossoms are blooming in a dark season of mystery and contemplation.

Hill demonstrates his vocal prowess on a couple of the folk standards and also on some new old-style originals. A hearty brass and reed section gives “;Travelin' On,”; one of his compositions, a light and bright feel despite the fact that the term turns out to be a reference to dying.

Were Hill not first and foremost an ukulele virtuoso, his new album would fall somewhere outside even the most inclusive definition of “;island mele,”; but he is, and this is a significant addition to his discography.


;» ”;Ev'ry Night”;
;» ”;One More Lie to Love”;
;» ”;Oh! Susanna”;

”;Light You Up”;

Kristofer David Gray
(no label)

; Singer/songwriter/musician Kristofer Gray teamed with musician/producer Kevin Crow to create this collection of insightful original rock. Gray introduces himself as a writer worthy of attentive listening with “;River of Lies.”; He builds on that positive first impression with each song that follows.

Time and again, the title tells but part of the larger lyric story. “;River of Lies”; is about the need to rescue people from the titular river. “;I Want Love”; turns out to be a call for forgiveness and a second chance at making things work.

Gray and Crow go deeper and darker with “;Complicated Mind”; and “;Organic Sensuation.”; Both cuts sound ready for alt-rock radio play and wider audiences.

There is, frankly, nothing particularly “;Hawaii”; going on here other than the album art, but Gray's well-written, expertly produced work reminds us that there are Hawaii residents capable of going head-to-head with their mainland counterparts in many genres of mainstream music.


;» ”;River of Lies”;
;» ”;I Want Love”;
;» ”;My Son”;

”;Pili O Ke Ao”;


; Male/female vocal duos are rare in local music. The last big one was Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom & Willie K—whose albums won back-to-back Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in 1999 (”;Hanaiali'i”;) and 2000 (”;Nostalgia”;). With that as precedent, watch for Kupaoa—Kellen Paik (guitar/ukulele) and Lihau Hannahs (bass)—to do well at the Hokus this year.

Close harmonies, two beautiful lead voices and clean acoustic arrangements are the foundation of the duo's distinctive yet traditionalist sound.

“;Adios ke Aloha”; shows their imagination as they present a beloved 19th-century classic in a fresh and imaginative style.

Remakes of two mainstream pop hits show that Kupaoa also has potential as a local pop act.

A beautiful liner notes booklet completes this perfect debut album as it introduces the artists as individuals, shares the lyrics and meaning of every Hawaiian song and provides other important background information.


;» ”;Pili o ke Ao”;
;» ”;Uluwehikalunaoka'ala”;
;» ”;Bless the Broken Road”;