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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008

ISLAND SOUNDS
Hilo Hawaiians' reissue CD is classic all around

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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"Honeymoon in Hawaii" by the Hilo Hawaiians; Ono Records

  • Genre: Classic Hawaiiana.

  • Distinguishing notes: The Hilo Hawaiians, led by Bunny Brown, were pioneering Island musicians who included Kihei Brown, Arthur Kaua, Edward "Mona" Kalima, Puni Kalima and Buddy Brown, among others. The group was widely known for its robust harmonies and soaring falsetto.

    This reissue, with vocals a-plenty and a few instrumentals, immortalizes the legacy of the Hilo combo in what is billed as the "50th anniversary collectors edition," which comes with an impressive 16-page scrapbook jammed with memories and proof of the group's stellar role in Island music here and abroad. The original was issued in 1960, so the math's a bit incorrect, but who's to quibble?

    A retrospective examination this is the first time the disc has been on CD, from the old 33 1/3 vinyl configuration reinforces the group's grip on Island music: in the religious vein ("Hole Waimea"), in its expansive repertoire ("He Aloha No O Honolulu" spotlights shifting styles, from chant to church chorale to hula), in its falsetto strengths (Brown's "He Punahele" and "Hawai'i Calls" are memorable), in its homage to the Big Island (" 'Akaka Falls," "Hilo March").

    Out of print for more than three decades, the album was still No. 34 in 2004 on Honolulu magazine's Top 50 Hawaiian Albums list. Though seemingly dated now, this is classic Island music by a classic Island act and serves as a primer for current and budding talent to embrace and emulate.

    Rose Marie Alvaro, onetime poster girl for the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau, graces the cover with her classic Island pose that lured tourists here for generations. Let's hope senior visitors remember the original combo and tuck this one into their suitcases on the return voyage.

  • Our take: Hilo no ka 'oi The Hawaiians are back from memory lane and it's worth a listen.

    Sample song: "Haole Hula" by Hilo Hawaiians

    "Only for the Lighthearted" by Tavana; Tavana Music

  • Genre: Rock with a Polynesian flair.

  • Distinguishing notes: With his grandfather's name, Tavana McMoore brings a bit of Polynesian baggage in his launch as a rockster. Tavana was the trade name of Waikiki's long-running spectacle of South Seas syncopation; the latter-day Tavana's father also had history with grandfather's show, but this latest family act has no bearing on his founders.

    This Tavana, the guitar-strumming/singing grandson, self-produced the CD and wrote all 13 tracks. Thus, it's a personal journey, uneven but honest, with styles that borrow from folkies as well as hard-rockers. "Sun Will Soon Be Out" is a love long with a frenetic shuffle, an ode with old-fashioned values set to a contemporary beat; "All Aboard" gives the disc its title (there's a line about a train being only for the lighthearted) and there's an earnest truism about getting on the train to find your mettle in life.

    "Softly Covered Dreams" is a surprisingly winning gem about a flight to a happier place and common sense. And a savvy bit with grandpere Tavana's influence syncopation of Polynesian drums midway through.

    Lyrics are provided but a challenge to follow, with its typographical design titles running into words, one after another, over two pages.

  • Our take: Overall, the poetry is far better than the melody as Tavana strives to find his place in the tropical sun.

    Sample song: "Warrior Song" by Tavana

    "Blue Darling" by Harold Uchino; He-U Records

  • Genre: 'Ukulele instrumentals.

  • Distinguishing notes: Harold Uchino, a self-styled 'ukulele soloist, hit pay dirt when his earlier "Romantic Love Songs" emerged on the Borders sales chart. He repeats his formula here: solo uke, augmented by orchestral sweeps courtesy of the Beaumont Symphony, and studio wizardry by Pierre Grill.

    The mix of haole songs ("Love Me With All Your Heart," "Beautiful Dreamer"), Hawaiian hits ("Blue Darling," "Pua Lilia," "Ke Kali Nei Au") and Japanese favorites ("Kimito Itsumade Mo," "Kawa No Nagare No Yoni," "Itsudemo Yume Wo") works well in his hands, though there's a synthesized flavor to the romantic wave. If you adored the earlier CD, you'll find joy in this one.

  • Our take: Uchino has found his niche and continues to explore it.

    Sample song: "Blue Darling" by Harold Uchino

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.