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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 18, 2006

ISLAND SOUNDS
Get a glimpse of the future and a blast from the past

By Wayne Harada

A heads up: Latch on to Steven Espaniola's first CD. It's a good bet the newcomer will evolve into a popular artist.

For Danny Kaleikini fans, the re-release of a vintage lu'au cast show provides fun and some retrospective on the early years of a big Hawaiian music star.

Joe Kingston bops and swings to big-band American classics suitable for club gigs.

"Ho'omaka" by Steven Espaniola; Common Ground Records

  • Genre: Traditional Hawaiian

  • Distinguishing notes: Remember this name: Steven Espaniola. Come awards time, he'll be a contender. Born in Aliamanu and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Espaniola has a refined Island sound accented by old-school textures and sizzle. His classic repertoire includes "Makee Ailana," "Puamana," "Pua Lilia," "I Kona" and "Kalama'ula." Espaniola's speciality is ki ho'alu, so his sleek slack-key style dominates, but the multi-instrumentalist also performs on 'ukulele and bass. Further, his ki'e ki'e (falsetto) projects a reassuring old-world style, with clean, exquisite production elements (credit Dave Tucciarone) adding to the pleasure. There's a hapa-haole entity in "Royal Hawaiian Hotel"; a tribute to Espaniola's wife in the name tune, "Hokulani"; and a new spin on the father fave, "God Bless My Daddy." Overall, it's obvious Espaniola respects his music and heritage. Splendid liner notes provide additional enrichment.

  • The outlook: Here's an artist clearly committed to preserving traditional Hawaiian if you like Ledward Ka'apana, Raiatea Helm, Keali'i Reichel, Genoa Keawe and Gabby Pahinui, you'll like Espaniola. He'll find a place in their league.

  • Our take: One of the year's most impressive debuts.

    "Makee Ailana" by Steven Espaniola. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

    "Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village" by Danny Kaleikini; Mahalo Records

  • Genre: Lu'au cast show, circa 1985

  • Distinguishing notes: Before he became a showroom staple at what was the Kahala Hilton, where he prevailed for nearly three decades, Danny Kaleikini was the singer and emcee of a popular lu'au production at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. This soundtrack to that experience, complete with conch shell blowing and description of the pig-in-the-imu procession, is a reflection of another era, and, for Kaleikini die-hards, a glimpse of a star in the making. Nostalgia abounds in tunes such as a Tahitian "Vahine Anamite," which he often performed at the Kahala, and "Ke Kali Nei Au." Listen to "Hi'ilawe" and it's obvious there's hula going on, too. Early in his career, Kaleikini played the ihu one hanu, the nose flute, and he shares that talent here, very different from his handling in the Kahala shows. To those who thought he only did pidgin, he emcees here in perfect Roosevelt English-standard pitch.

  • The outlook: Perhaps the appeal of this CD is for those who actually attended a performance and ate that meal.

  • Our take: A portrait of a facet of the Hawaiian show experience for the CD generation ... and a journey into Kaleikini's past.

    "Hiilawe" by John Kalapana. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

    "WORLD THAT SWINGS" BY JOE KINGSTON; FLYING MONGOOSE

  • Genre: Adult contemporary.

  • Distinguishing notes: Joe Kingston is a pop singer of American classics, with swing, big-band and light jazz flavors. His repertoire, while easy to take, is not geared to pop radio and the effort is suitable for club sales linked to a live performance. Still, the voice and style prey on staples from nightclub and jazz fests, ranging from a swinging "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," a seductive "Summer Wind" to a snappy "Mack the Knife," and a samba-tempoed "Meditation." Kingston's pipes are backed by a six-member combo including keyboards, brass, bass and drums.

  • The outlook: Cabaret gigs would seem to be Kingston's destination.

  • Our take: An earnest endeavor with limited appeal.

    "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" by Joe Kingston. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.