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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2007

'Ukulele Journey' conveys mood, emotion

By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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" 'Ukulele Journey" by Herb Ohta Jr.; Lele Music Productions

  • Genre: 'Ukulele instrumentals.

  • Distinguishing notes: Uke soloist Herb Ohta Jr. is marking his 17th year as a musician, and he's easily one of the genre's most prolific. Part of his appeal is his savvy in writing or covering music that suits his romantic and intimate style, which concentrates on mood and emotion, with only a few flashy displays.

    He gets winning results with his gentle "Hawaiian Sky," eliciting images of sunshine and warmth; and his strumming creates word pictures of grace and peace in the Okinawan fave "Nada Sousou."

    And when he's in the interpretative mood, he goes to town, too, bringing the soul of Lena Machado's "Holo Wa'apa" to life for a new generation of listeners, and retaining the haunting simplicity of Louis "Moon" Kauakahi's "Kaleohano" as it tugs gently at the heart with choral interludes.

    "Tsunami" is a wave of a ride with quiet eloquence; his original, "Sand Castles," also has beach orientation, and trickles with a sunny disposition.

  • Our take: Herbie rides again and it's a journey for the soul as well as the ears.

    Sample song: "Sand Castles" by Herb Ohta, Jr.

    "Naha Stone" by King Kekai; Ekahi Entertainment

  • Genre: Island contemporary, hip-hop, rap, urban soul.

  • Distinguishing notes: King Kekai raps with the mana'o of Hawaiian chant, segueing into street-smart rhythms.

    Most of the tracks are Kekai's originals, a few with collaborative help. Methinks he has fashioned what might be dubbed acoustic rap the sensibilities of hip-hop without the manic aspects (boom-box volume, staccato tempos). His brand is sedate and accessibly "quiet." Witness "Take a Walk With Me," which exemplifies his message-laden mission and the easier-to-swallow technique. There's form and substance in his raw poetry.

    There's also an exotic flavor to the track "Let's Get Down." Hypnotic and attention-getting.

  • Our take: Finally, a rapper who has something to say and a way of saying it.

    Sample song: "Naha Stone" by King Kehai

    "Two Guitars, One Heart" by John Bellar and Ron Neilson; Bishop Museum

  • Genre: Lap-steel acoustic guitar instrumentals.

  • Distinguishing notes: John Bellar and Ron Neilson are Nashville musicians who recorded this project at Charles Michael Brotman's Lava Tracks Studio on the Big Island and mixed at Lava Tracks and Peck Tunes Studio. While this is not a Hawaiian project, the locale certainly influences the music. One track is called "Kaanapali Waltz," which unabashedly captures a Maui moment.

    The duo may have roots in Tennessee but have developed a sense of (Island) place or at least the suggestion thrives in a number of tracks upon quick listening.

    The tone is new-age, not country music; the effect is soothing, mood-evoking music, and the titles tell the tale: "Seven Angels," "Only Love Remains," "Message From the Stars," "Stream of Memories." You can write a mini-screenplay from the tranquil and seductive images Bellar and Neilson pull out of you.

  • Our take: Hana hou!

    Sample song: "Stream of memories" by Ron Neilson and John Bellar

    And maybe the two should tackle Island music in their next outing.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.