Popping new holiday music out of its case for a test spin
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
|CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: "Christmas Gift 2" by Na Leo Pilimehana, "Santa Claus Lives in Hawai'i (The Musical)" by Art Freedman and Roslyn Catracchia, "Shades of California" by Bruce Hamada and Jim Howard, "Old Hawaiian Christmas" by various artists, "Hawai'i Christmas in the Islands" by various artists, "Have a Maui Christmas" by various artists, "A Father-Daughter Christmas" by Rob and Corrie Westerman and "Windston Tan's Christmas for You" by Winston Tan.|
Christmas is a joyous source of inspiration and a springboard for creativity for Island recording artists. Among them:
"Christmas Gift 2" by Na Leo Pilimehana, NLP Music: Na Leo Lehua Kalima, Angela Morales and Nalani Choy captures the essence of the holidays, with a dozen tunes that offer variety and comfort for the entire family. "Celebrate Me Home," the Kenny Loggins signature, sets the tone of the trio's second Christmas album, complete with a Hawaiian spin (prominent 'ukulele back-up); surprisingly, the non-Christmas ditty has timely appeal. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Song of Christmas" (the Kui Lee seasonal favorite) and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" are suitably nostalgic and harmonic; Frank B. Shaner, ho-ho-ho, appears in a Santa cameo (you didn't know he was Jawaiian, did you?) on "Santa Island," an original by Kalima; and there's genuine warmth on Kalima's "Christmas in Your Eyes," which looks at the season through the eyes of her first-born, Malie. And, yes, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (with reworked "gifts," giving the oldie a new life) and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" demonstrate that Na Leo can loosen up and have tons of family fun.
"Santa Claus Lives in Hawai'i (The Musical)," a musical score from a new holiday musical by Art Freedman and Roslyn Catracchia, Rhyme Writer Productions: This is the season's most ambitious endeavor, a full-on musical (about Christmas, to boot), with Freedman (lyrics) and Catracchia (music) collaborating as writers and producers. The Army Community Theatre is producing the show for two weekends starting Dec. 14 at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter, but the score provides an early peek. Catracchia, who earlier co-wrote the score of another lavish musical, "On Dragonfly Wings," demonstrates a real flair and gift for creating melodic benchmarks that enable character elements and plot incidents to flourish and flow in the format of a show song. And Freedman displays a resourceful pen, collating emotions and storytelling dexterity to yield meaningful tunes that enlighten, as well as entertain. The songs are more "showy" than "Christmasy," formatted to fit the needs of a musical narrative. A bevy of familiar voices and names perform the music with spirit and sass; Jana Anguay's "I Believe in Santa Claus, Too" is a ballad that brings up the age-old Island dilemma: no snow here. Catracchia sings the show's uplifting theme song, "Give Me a Smile."
"Shades of Christmas" by Bruce Hamada and Jim Howard, Imanaka Kudo & Fujimoto IK&I: In the able hands of singer-bassist Bruce Hamada and pianist Jim Howard, this is jazzy Christmas stuff. From the opening "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" to the closing "A Child Is Born," the pendulum swings from big-band to blues, with Hamada displaying growing confidence and assurance as a crooner. "The Christmas Song" has an unstated tribute to composer Mel Torme, with the requisite holiday glow. Howard's keyboard solo on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" is crisp and atmospheric you can imagine the white fluff dancing out there in the cold. Among other nifty interpretations: "We Three Kings," an instrumental with a jazz-waltz lilt, and Hamada's rollicking "Sleigh Ride" vocal. The backup crew includes drummer Jess Gopen, saxophonist Gabe Baltazar and euphonium performer Dick "Slyde" Hyde.
"Old Hawaiian Christmas" by various artists, SeaWest: Maluhia Hawaiian for peace is the theme of this 15-track compilation by a dozen artists. It has an interesting history: Producers Rick and Donna Keefer had the performers involved in SeaWest projects dating back a couple of years cut a holiday track along with their other work, with an eye to this release. To this is a yummy mixed plate by a gamut of performers who likely would not issue full-tilt holiday CDs. Leka and D Nui of Ka'u's title song is a reworking of "Lone Star Christmas" with a beguiling country flavor. Bruddah Smitty lays down the blues on "Christmas Big Island." Ken Emerson assembles an orchestra on "O Holy Night." Kevin & Joe of Pa'ani Pila revive "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Po La'i E (Silent Night)" with alternating cheer and solemnity. Bryan Kessler puts his guitar stamp on "What Child Is This," Alicia Bay Laurel belts out "Jingle Bell Rock," Lindsey Trinidad gets nostalgic on "Merry Christmas Darling," Bradshaw Ellis of Pu'uwai updates "Po Hemolele" and so on.
"Hawai'i Christmas in the Islands" by various artists, MGC Records: Here's another quiltwork of holiday favorites, performed by a gamut of acts, some established, some new, all immersed in the sentiment of the season. Gail Mark & George Street bring back The Carpenters' classic, "Merry Christmas Darling," with all the nurturing warm fuzzies, and George Street collaborates with Nueva Vida on "I'll Be Home for Christmas," capturing poignancy and relevancy for the yuletide. Nightwing's "Island Holiday" has buoyancy and a captivating undercurrent, Vizion's "Here With You" has tints of soul and blues, Paka Smith's "O Holy Night" upholds the expected spirituality, Lance Jyo's "Christmas in Our Hearts" zooms in on the meaning of the yuletide and Native Roots uncorks a Jawaiian version of "Take Us Back." Jadessence's contemporary "Merry Christmas Baby" and Kanepono's "Mele Kalikimaka on Christmas Day" are other cuts worth inspecting.
"Have a Maui Christmas," by various artists, Maui Christmas Music: Five Valley Island artists share the spotlight here. Ron Kuala'au, Conrad and Sam Ahia, Maurice Bega and Luke Keala perform alone or in collaboration with each other, on this nine-cut assembly of traditional and contemporary Christmas fare but occasionally sung in Hawaiian. Thus, Kuala'au goes to town on a Hawaiian "Joy to the World," an Engish "Away in a Manger," a bilingual (English and Hawaiian) "Mele Kalikimaka" and a bilingual "Jingle Bells." One of the treats is the Bega-Kuala'au union on "The Christmas Song," rendered in English but with a simple guitar accompaniment.
"A Father-Daughter Christmas" by Rob and Corrie Westerman, Stardancer: Clearly, this is a labor of love; and nothing says it better of Christmas than family. Dad Rob Westerman is a Christmas song contest grand prize winner and daughter Corrie is a singer-actress with credits here and in Nashville. The tunes are rendered as duets or solos, tapping several genres, from pop ballad to festive inspirational holiday fodder, to seasonal novelties. "Jingle Jam" is a new "Jingle Bells," with the familiar crew (Santa, his reindeer) bouncing to a snappy beat. "Santa We've Been Good" is a good-fun St. Nick novelty. "Alohalani Kalikimaka Auntie" is a good-natured observation of a Hawaiian-style holiday auntie (who doesn't have one like Alohalani?). A colorful liner booklet, illustrated by Eleykaa Tahleh, yields a coloring book look and flavor that kids probably will appreciate as they sing along.
"Winston Tan's Christmas for You," by Winston Tan, Winston Tan WT001: Released last year but new to this marketplace, Winston Tan's eight-string classical guitar is a natural for the holiday repertoire. Adhering mostly to vintage 18th-century Christmas songs, Tan takes the listener on a timeless excursion to Italy, Germany, England and France, via "Two Anon Lute Songs," "Silent Night," "The Coventry Carol" and "O Holy Night." His guitarmanship on "Canon in D," "Ave Maria," "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Serenade" yield grace, beauty and ultimate peace and the pleasure is akin to opening up a music box with jingles that tingle the soul.