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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 16, 2004

Strummer Ohta Jr. sings on latest release

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

A master of the 'ukulele is back with a splendid collection — and he sings, too, on two cuts.

A compilation of Island reggae should find its groove.

And a new foursome delivers some cheerful vocals that portend a bright future.

"'UKULELE BREEZE" by Herb Ohta Jr.; Lele Music Productions.

• Genre: Instrumental 'ukulele; two vocals.

• Distinguishing notes: Herb Ohta Jr. has emerged as one of a fistful of stellar 'ukulele wizards — Jake Shimabukuro is in this league — to carry on the tradition of the uke. Here, he assembles seven original compositions and puts his imprint on five "covers." He's demonstrated with singing, too, and a pair of vocal tracks are offered as "bonus" items in this feast for the ears. His touch, like his dad Herb "Ohta-san" Ohta's, is precise and controlled, with exquisite strumming that ultimately speaks a language of its own. The new cuts that impress are "Ocean of Dreams," "Beach Walk," "Tropical Delight" — wondrous eloquence from his pluckings — and the borrowed tunes ("Lei Pikake," "Sir Duke," "Europa") are masterfully interpreted. As a vocalist, Ohta Jr. is still a learner but demonstrates growing confidence and resourcefulness on "Pua Hone" and "Spend It With You."

• The outlook: Great production values, appealing renderings of new and old 'ukulele jewels.

• Our take: Herbie rides again — and it's a satisfying journey.

"ISLAND ROOTS V. 4" by various artists; Quiet Storm Records.

Genre: Island rhythms, reggae.

Distinguishing notes: Hip grooves by some local faves. Crisply produced tracks live up to the tradition set by the first volume. Best tracks: O-Shen's "Honolulu," the Mana'o Company's "Aloha" (with Keali'i Reichel, Ho'onua and H-Dawg featured), Pati's "Kiss and Say Goodbye," Native Blend's "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me" (with B.E.T.) and Next Generation's "Let's Rock." Moemoea, a Big Island act, is a new arrival on the scene; its "Smile" should find its way to playlists.

• The outlook: Though some of the titles are familiar, it's a pleasure to rediscover them alongside other popular tracks.

• Our take: Still a blessedly good idea to assemble popular acts each doing a cut — like a party that's waiting to happen.

"KA'ENA" by Ka'ena; 808 Productions.

• Genre: Island contemporary.

• Distinguishing notes: Ka'ena is a cheerful foursome comprised of Bronson Meyers on 'ukulele, bass and vocals; Domonic Vespoli, on uke and vocals; Jonah Davis, on uke, guitar and vocals; and Richard Gideon, on uke, guitar, bass and vocals. There's every reason why this group should succeed: Members write their own music, and the ukemanship is right up there with Pure Heart/Mana'o Company-type innocence and brilliance. The vocals are clean and production values high. "You Say," "Sweet Sweet Love" and "One True Love" typify the cohesive expression and charm of Ka'ena.

• The outlook: The four guys show promise.

• Our take: With radio support and a major pop in a concert, this group should be up and running.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.