Show and Tell Hawai'i

Will Hanaiali'i's duets CD help save the music industry?

August 28th, 2009

Amy Hanaiali’i’s latest CD, “Friends & Family of Hawai’i,” arrives in a challenging economic climate. Record sales are way down; artists get minimal or no radio airplay; downloading is rampant.
This is the new normal.
But there are folks who still believe in the hold-in-the-hands-and-feel-the-product tradition. They still buy CDs.
However, a “hit” album now may log paltry sales of 1,800 to 2,000 units, when 20,000 was the norm.
Thus, dealers and artists alike are watching the performance of Hanaiali’i very closely. Is this Mountain Apple Company release going to make a difference? Will it play from Hilo to Hanalei?
Hanaiali’i renders 16 duets with male singers — all local, iconic Willie Nelson being the lone oddity — to showcase the diverse nature of her catalogue and vocal style. Indeed, with so much variety, both artistry and commerce are setting sail to see if this one can up the ante at the cash registers while still do what Hanaiali’i does: stretch the boundaries of Hawaiian music by exploring shades and textures that expand the mind, if not the geography, in outside-the-box risks.
I believe “Friends & Family of Hawai’i” has the potential to become one of those albums where everyone knows every track on the disc by the end of the first month or two of release. The last time this happened locally was in 1994, when Keali’i Reichel’s landmark “Kawaipunahele” became a sensation, with local stations airing different tracks, when folks had a different favorite Reichel cuts — making the Maui kumu hula a star to reckon with. Reichel is among the participants here, for insurance.
Hanaiali’i, of course, is an established pro whose complexity makes her difficult to pigeon-hole.
Matt Catingub’s arrangements and orchestrations provide surround-sound vistas; the sweeping whirlpool occasionally is overpowering, when a simple guitar might have done the job. But grandeur is the m.o.; and with most songs more than 3 minutes long (and some nearly 5 minutes), running time may thwart radio play (stations like ‘em short and crisp).
Herewith, a track-by-track glimpse:
E Ku’u Lei,” with Palani Vaughan — A Robert Cazimero composition becomes a poignant and delicate tapestry with subdued and radiant warmth that harkens back to the days of the ali’i. Vaughan’s deliberate restraint is exquisite.
“Comin’Home,” with Henry Kapono — A subdued ballad of homecoming joy, a delicate balance of relief and anticipation. For a short spell, imagine Hanaiali’i as Cecilio — in the spirit of goodtimes forever.
“Maka ‘Alohilohi,” with the Martin Pahinui Trio — This is one of those jams evocative of lu’au, with the Pahinui gang (including George Kuo and Aaron Mahi) echoing Hanaiali’i with casual, hang-loose fun complete with ki ho’alu.
“Have I Told You Lately?,” with Willie Nelson — The Maui connection is the reason to lasso country gent Nelson to update the vintage Van Morrison hit earlier popularized by Rod Stewart. His wobbly and nasal vocal timbre makes this a wild card entry for a global audience.
“Pua Hone,” with Sean Na’auao— The beloved Rev. Dennis Kamakahi classic is reinterpreted for a new generation, with forsaking his uptempo reggaefied posture for the playful refrains with hula implications.
“Everybody Plays the Fool,” with Rebel Souljahz — The Jawaiian juice is poured by the rousing Souljahz, reinterpreting with Hanaiali’i the Main Ingredient’s oldie. Not quite the kind of ditty you’d expect her to soldier on with, except perhaps to lure young ears.
“Pa Aheahe,” with Keali’i Reichel — A tune in Hawaiian, reflecting adoration for a tutuwahine, a sentiment shared by both the guest singer and Hanaiali’i; Reichel’s luminous pipes are a perfect match for hers and the framework of symphonic dressage by Catingub yields a picture of tranquil reflection. The money track— with the texture that definied Reichel’s “Kawaipunahele” outing.
“What Is Life?,” with John Cruz — George Harrison’s original is old enough to be “new” to youthful ears and Cruz’s intensity and simplicity just might garner a griphold among the deejays. This is contemplative balladry that provokes thinking, feeling, believing. And both wail — with a lot of life.
“Shower the People,” with Eric Gilliom — OK, brother and sis together; shouldn’t that generate hurrahs? The James Taylor trademark is given a rhythm ’n’ blues booster shot and the kinship resonates.
“Kou Leo Nahenahe,” with Nathan Aweau — The most powerful track, with Aweau displaying his composing and solo and harmony vocal prowess. It starts on a mellow note and builds to a stirring nahenahe and satisfying finish.
“Ua, Ua Ho’e’ele,” with Dennis Kamakahi — Frisky is the best way to describe this delight, a Kamakahi contribution; makes you want to tap your toes, burst into hula, prance and join in song. Slack key rules, too. And two stellar elocutionists give-and-take, in see-sawing interplay.
“Na’u No ‘Oe Mai/I Will Dance for You,” with Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole — This one is the underdog; chant-like in substance, Hawaiian ballad in performance; her sultry pitches sway with his upper-register waves, like surf dancing on the shoreline. It’s in Hawaiian, it’s in English; it’s a wonderment.
“Ka Malu Akua,” with David Kawika Kahiapo — A stirring entry, co-written by Hanaiali’i, beautifully crafted with Kahiapo, with uncommon spiritually dealing with deities and spirits. Chicken skin.
“I Believe in You,” with Robert Cazimero — He wrote it and they make it sound like they’ve been doing it for years; sweet, gentle, radiant, melodic, pledging mutual faith and commitment, two huge voices with a skosh of restraint to enable each other to paint a sound picture of poignancy... surprisingly in English, and evocative of a movie-musical love theme.
“Ho’onanea,” with Darren Benitez — In an obvious tribute to Lena Machado, this Hawaiian classic enables the falsetto-savvy Benitez and the songbird to stroll down memory lane, with a deliberate and jazz-tinged arrangement with a yesteryear twang featuring Bobby Ingano’s singing atmospheric steel guitar.
“Send One Your Love,” with Fiji — He is still somewhat under appreciated in these parts, and Hanaiali’i becomes soul sistah to his soul bro posture, and both pump as they revive this Stevie Wonder trademark with passionate, personal imprints.
Long story short: will duets do it for Hanaiali’i?

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