Recordings to remember

With the 2016 annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards about to be announced Saturday evening in Honolulu, this week’s column offers an overview of nominated recordings that feature Maui musicians.
With her being a multi-Hoku-winner (25 so far) since the late 1990s, it was no surprise that Amy Hanaiali’i received nominations in five categories — Female Vocalist, Album and Song of the Year, Contemporary Album and Favorite Entertainer — for her CD “Chardonnay.”
Released in conjunction with her own wine label, “Chardonnay” highlights Hanaiali’i’s superb vocals and her versatility.
“I was trying new music out, trying to expand and grow,” she says. “I felt that this project and the wine was a good match.”
Enhanced by stellar production and instrumental accompaniment, she shines on the original ballad “Meaning of Love,” while her terrific covers range from a chilled-out version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” to the standard “Cry Me a River,” embellished with a lush orchestral arrangement. Hanaiali’i is currently on tour in Japan.
Our rising young star Lily Meola is nominated for Female Vocalist, Contemporary Album and Most Promising Artist for her exceptional debut album, “They Say.”
Included in Rolling Stone’s recent “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” Meola had help on the album from legends Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson (on his classic “Me & Bobby McGee”). Featuring mostly original compositions plus a few covers, standouts range from a duet with Lukas Nelson on the “Sound of Your Memory” to the uptempo “Bad Boy.”
“Each song was chosen for different reasons,” she says. “They all touched me in some way.”
Meola will perform at the Hoku ceremony with Blayne Asing, accompanied by Eric Helmkamp, who produced her CD. In late August, she will perform at California’s Ohana Music Festival, headlined by Eddie Vedder and Lana Del Rey.
Veteran Hawaiian virtuoso George Kahumoku Jr. has amassed a collection of Grammy and Na Hoku awards over the years. His latest, “Songs of the Hawaiian Cowboy,” is nominated for Slack Key Album of the Year, Instrumental Composition for his song “Pi’iholo Sunset” and for Liner Notes.
Celebrating cowboys and ranching in Hawaii, the album mixes originals with traditional songs such as “Kilakila ‘O Haleakala” and “Pu’uanahulu,” which capture his love for Hawaiian music.
“I’ve been playing and performing slack key guitar, farming and ranching all of my life,” says this ki ho’alu master, “which makes me especially excited about sharing these songs.”
Unless he’s touring, Kahumoku performs Wednesdays at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.
Another frequent Hoku winner, Jeff Peterson is also nominated for Slack Key Album, along with Instrumental Composition for “Old Pali,” from his latest CD, “O’ahu.” His second island-themed release, it’s a tribute to his current island home.
“I thought it would be nice to do a CD in a similar way to my ‘Maui on My Mind’ project, celebrating mele pana, songs of place, around the island of Oahu,” Peterson explains.
With some compositions featuring up to six layered guitar parts, and in different tunings, traditional slack key favorites, island standards and originals all receive his deft touch. Choice covers include Olomana’s classic “Ku ‘U Home O Kahalu ‘U” and Liko Martin’s “Waimanalo Blues.” Peterson is currently touring Columbia with Keola Beamer. He will next perform here at the “Masters of Hawaiian Music” series in Napili on June 22.
Other Maui recordings with two nominations include the Institute of Hawaiian Music’s “Aloha ‘Ia No ‘O Maui,” produced by Keola Donaghy, for Compilation Album, plus Hawaiian Language Performance.
“It’s a testament to the hard work that our students put into the project, with the help and support of their instructors and music industry mentors,” says Donaghy, the institute’s faculty coordinator.
The impressive array of aspiring artists on this collection of Maui-themed songs includes Kalani Souza’s sweet falsetto on “Kilakila ‘O Maui,” Destiny Mahaulu’s lovely take on “Kaho’olawe” and Vernon Ka’aihue’s moving version of Dennis Kamakane’s “Wahine ‘Ilikea.”
Some of our finest players are featured on “The Reflections Project – Maui Jazz 2015,” produced by Steven and Lauren Burgess, which received a Compilation Album nomination. With its eclectic fusion of jazz styles, the project, says Steven Burgess, “celebrates the brilliant work of nine of Maui’s finest jazz artists.” They include soul songstress Kelly Covington, the smooth sax of Rock Hendricks, Tom Conway’s gypsy jazz guitar, the romantic piano of Sal Godinez and steel guitarist Joel Katz with a cool version of “Fool on the Hill.”
More jazz can be heard on Henry Allen’s “Koele Mist” and Jimmy C’s “Love Wants to Dance,” both nominated for Jazz Album of the Year.
Taking its title from the upcountry mist on Lanai, Allen’s album features four lengthy tunes including the title-track original, which features Michael Paulo on sax; “Napili Cliffs” (again with Paulo); and live versions of “Ho’okipa” and Kui Lee’s “I’ll Remember You.”
“Tropical swing with a touch of cool jazz is my legacy,” says Allen.
Vocalist/drummer Jimmy C turns to standards on his nominated album. There are classics like “All or Nothing at All” and “Witchcraft,” made popular by Frank Sinatra, along with covers of Michael Franks’ “Don’t Be Blue” and the jazz standard “How High the Moon.”
“Lyrics to a song are very important to me,” he says. “I find many of the classics convey the romance I was searching for.”
The performer plays with the Makai Jazz Group on Thursdays at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea.
Regular performers at Kahumoku’s “Masters of Hawaiian Music” series in Napili, Da Ukulele Boyz are nominated for Ukulele Album for their latest recording, “Jus Cuz – Ukulele Duets.” As its title implies, the album captures the talented duo of Garrett Probst and Peter deAquino interpreting a range of familiar songs across genres.
“People are attracted to the ukulele’s sound,” deAquino notes. “We get a lot of response when you hear two ukuleles together.”
Highlights include Herb Ohta Jr. and Bryan Tolentino’s classic “G Minor Fleas,” the Surfaris’ surf hit “Wipeout” and a lively blues-flavored original, “F Uke Blues.”
Ka’imi Hanano’eau’s four-track release “Ukulele What?” is up for Extended Play. It features three original songs, including “G – Dorian Rock,” and a version of Santana’s “Europa,” a favorite for ukulele players to cover.
“Ukulele was my first instrument for many years before I jumped on guitar,” he reports. “I only could dream of these styles of music being used with the ukulele.”
Citing influences by artists ranging from Joni Mitchell and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, to Chaka Khan and Stevie Nicks, Jamie Gallo saw her CD “Awakening” nominated for Rock Album. Recorded in Nashville and focused exclusively on original songs, this impressive album includes the catchy, John Mellencamp-flavored rocker “Ole Grey Hound,” the poignant ballad “Perception” and the rousing “Ticket,” fueled by some fiery electric guitar soloing.
“We live in a colorful world and I like to think my writing amplifies that,” Gallo reports.
She can be heard performing at the South Shore Tiki Lounge on Thursdays.