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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 20, 2005

Ex-Islander captures moods on acoustic guitar

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

A former Islander, now in New York, turns in an evocative instrumental album reflecting the changing seasons and the yearnings of home in a savory acoustic guitar outing reminiscent of George Winston on a smaller scale.

Another composer, who's lived in Hawai'i and abroad, similarly shares his moods and reflections of different places.

And a rock group easily erases rock fever — this one offering good vibrations.

"WHEN HOME IS FAR AWAY" by Darin Leong; hawaiiguitar.com

Genre: Acoustic guitar instrumentals, some ki ho'alu.

Distinguishing notes: Darin Leong (Punahou '95) has been away (Pomona College '99) but lives and works in New York, where he performs solo, in a duo and with Uncle Jimmy and the Hula Dancers, a contemporary act that has gigged on both coasts as well as in Hawai'i. Leong has trained with Barry Flanagan, Lisa Smith and Bobby Moderow, and the influence has rubbed off in this collection of tranquil, reflective and romantic tunes expressing his feelings about home, life away and changing seasons. The compositions are his, evocative of anywhere home might be at the moment. "Sunshine" is aurally bright and radiant and "New Seasons" percolates with a melancholic spring mood. In contrast, "The Leaves Have Fallen" visualizes fall and the verge of winter, while "February Snow" suggests a frosty landscape, at once beautiful and chilling. "Ka'a Slack" is slack-key to the max, with a link to Hawai'i.

The outlook: It's gratifying to know you can take the boy out of Hawai'i, but you can't take Hawai'i out of the boy.

Our take: Sounds like a small-scale take on George Winston and his Windham Hill collections of pastoral and time-and-place acoustic treatments.

"INTO THE BLUE" by Steve Howells; Beat This! Records

Genre: Instrumentals (with some exceptions).

Distinguishing notes: If environment influences creativity, then consider this an aural postcard of Steve Howells' life here and abroad. The fare sounds much like a score for a surf odyssey, with notes suggestive of wide open swells, sun-kissed oceans and blue skies. In reality, Howells was inspired to compose these tunes (the title song features narrative by Elsie Kawaonaheleopa'i'i Durante, with words penned by Butch Helemano) from living in Wales, South Africa, Guam and Hawai'i. Howells performs on all instruments, with support from musician friends. The titles tell the tales: "Crescent Moon," "Pipe Dreams," "Lava Tube," "Freak Wave."

The outlook: Not much commercial appeal but a revealing excursion.

• Our take: Something different from an artist with dreams and vision.

"UNDER A NATIVE MOON" by Sugah Daddy; Daddy Leopard Records

Genre: Contemporary.

Distinguishing notes: Rock fever used to mean a feeling of stagnation and isolation on an island. Not so with SUGahDADDY, whose CD is crammed with vibrant chips of substance and style. The group includes Darrell Aquino, vocals, bass and guitar; Mat Kalani Souza, vocals, guitar and harmonica; Jason Nobriga, lead guitar; Michael Y. Cueva, tenor sax; and John Charleson, drums. All the songs are original, mostly from the pen of Aquino and Souza, and it's a smooth ride. A bit of blues on "Queenie Baby," spontaneous and free-flowing rock on "Under a Native Moon" (featured on three separate cuts), a sliver of frisky '60s- and '70s-style slide-and-glide dance tempos on "Oh Donna," a dash of soul on "But Me." Sax and harmonica in the musical mix yield a sleek sound.

The outlook: Nothing but good vibrations.

Our take: This Sugah Daddy rocks — for Sugah Mommies, too.

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