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Albums get Christmas started on right note


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

With each Christmas comes a fresh crop of Christmas recordings, some songs newly written, most of them new versions of popular standards. Favorite songs become an important part of our lives, and an annuity for recording artists and songwriters.

Bing Crosby's original hit recording of “;White Christmas,”; from World War II, will be in fashion for as long as Americans celebrate Christmas.

Here in Hawaii we have several enduring hapa-haole hits, including “;Mele Kalikimaka,”; Ed Kenney's definitive recording of “;Numbah One Day of Christmas”; and Frank De Lima's “;Filipino Christmas Carol.”; Hawaiian music, like many other things unique to our islands, is too good not to share.

Here's a look at two new local Christmas releases and a handful from years past that are worth repeat listens.

”;Christmas Will Find Us Wherever We Are,”; by Candes (GMG)

Candes Meijide Gentry sings with a precise clear soprano indicative of her love of musical theater and the guidance of her friend and mentor, Laurence Paxton. She and Paxton share producers' credits here with Pierre Grill, and the threesome have crafted a beautiful showcase.

With less than three weeks until Christmas, this is the year's only Christmas album of new local recordings, and Gentry deserves to be heard.

Her most interesting choices are obscure songs such as “;Christmas Will Find Us Wherever We Are.”; Another, “;A Christmas Love Song,”; catches the ear midway through the album. “;The Secret of Christmas”; delivers a message—“;It's not the things you do at Christmastime, but the Christmas things you do all year through”;—everyone should heed.

Gentry also presents a hapa haole-style medley of local favorites, and displays her affinity for pop with “;I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”;/”;Merry Christmas Darling.”;

Gentry and her longtime friend and singing partner, Joey Caldarone, approach “;Baby It's Cold Outside”; with a vocal mix in which her voice dominates, but they use their acting skills to good effect in developing the humorous give-and-take of the lyrics.

Gentry captures the poignancy of “;I'll Be Home for Christmas”; perfectly. Her rendition of “;Silent Night (Po La'i E)”; is beautiful as well.

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”;A Bright Christmas,”; by Teresa Bright (Teresa Bright Productions)

Teresa Bright sings seductive jazzy pop with the same strength and appeal she brings to her Hawaiian repertoire in this anthology of recordings from two out-of-print Christmas albums, “;A Christmas Season's Delight”; and her 1996 Hoku Award winner, “;A Bright Hawaiian Christmas.”;

Bright applies her distinctive voice to a cross section of seasonal favorites, Christian and secular, Hawaiian, hapa-haole and pop.

“;Mele Kalikimaka,”; “;Po La'i E (Silent Night)”; and “;Ho'onani i ka Makua Mau”; give the collection its Hawaiian foundation. Bright sings the pop tunes beautifully as well.

Here are three classics from the past:

”;Maluhia,”; by Keali'i Reichel (Punahele)

Keali'i Reichel's Christmas album, released in 2006, matched the level of perfection he achieved with “;Ke'alakamaile”; three years earlier.

That one won seven Hoku Awards in 2004, including Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year; “;Maluhia”; won only two but would have represented Hawaiian music perfectly at the Grammys.

Reichel's unmistakable voice makes each selection distinctive.

His renditions of “;O Holy Night”; and “;Silent Night/Po La'i E”; are two of the highlights. Ho'okena joins him on an imaginative reworking of “;Merry Christmas Darling”; that is a refreshing alternative to the Carpenters' hit.

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Reichel reminds the listener of the Christian foundations of Christmas with “;Nu 'Oli”; and blends Christian and pre-Christian Hawaiian themes in “;Ke Aloha Kalikimaka.”;

”;Merry Christmas to You,”; by Henry Kapono (Mo'i)

One of the best local Christmas albums of the 1980s is still one of the best.

Kapono's arrangements generally provide new perspectives.

Guest artists on the recording add variety without blurring the focus. Highlights include “;We Three Kings”; with Jerry Santos and Roland Cazimero, and a soulful rendition of “;Jingle Bell Rock”; featuring the original three members of Kapena.

”;Willie Kalikimaka,”; by Willie K (Mountain Apple Co.)

Willie K's imaginatively titled 1999 project won the Hoku Award for Best Christmas Album in 2000, thanks in part to a duet with Willie Nelson that was one of the highlights. “;O Holy Night”; was another.

Willie personalized other standards as well. His rendition of “;Mele Kalikimaka”; began as a simple back-porch jam but was expanded to include quick melodic references to several other songs. Three noteworthy originals display another facet of his repertoire.