‘The GIANT’

Recording artist Deborah Vial towers with new CD. Photo courtesy Deborah Vial Band

Anyone who has seen the Deborah Vial Band knows that it is led by a dynamic singer who can power out “Aretha style” on soul covers like “Chain of Fools” and “Dr. Feelgood,” deliver an emotional take on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” tenderly sing sweet ballads and mightily rock throughout Heart’s “Barracuda.”

With talk nationally about how Greta Van Fleet is saving classic rock, there are potent tracks on Vial’s impressive new CD, “The Giant,” that demonstrate how this Maui band is also helping keep rock healthy, alive and relevant.

To craft “The Giant,” Vial and her partner, multi-instrumentalist Caron Barrett, teamed with Grammy winning producer/engineer Eric Helmkamp, who previously helped shape Lily Meola’s debut album.

With producer Bob Rock, Helmkamp has worked with an array of artists from Metallica and Motley Crue to Michael Buble (who won him a Grammy) and Sarah McLachlan.

“About a month or two in we realized we were making a heavy rock album,” explains Helmkamp, who shares composing credits on all the album’s 14 original songs as well as playing keyboards and percussion. “At some point we were talking about (Soundgarden’s) Chris Cornell and how we missed him and loved his music, and that was an inspirational moment. A couple of the heavier songs came out of that.”

The Deborah Vial Band hangs out in a tree top with producer Eric Helmkamp (from left), Corin Barrett, John Michael Jelliffe and James Bowersox. Deborah Vial Band photo

With echoes of the legendary band Heart on their hard-rock-riff powered songs, Vial says that they were influenced by dramatic personal and national events.

“There were many life events that were so heavy. A dear friend died and the Parkland massacre happened and there was a lot of gun violence in the news, and upsetting, negative things on TV, which all added to the energy that came out in the CD.”

The title song, one of the most pivotal tracks on the album, explores the recent awakening of Vial’s activism in a power anthem for the women’s rights movement.

“You woke the giant in me,” Vial declares. “Some people want us to sure be quiet, but we rise and we raised a riot”“the Genie can’t be put back.”

The accompanying video for “The Giant” features early film of suffragette protests, civil rights marches from the 1960s and footage of the Washington, D.C. Women’s March in Jan. 2017.

“We were so upset by the ‘grab them by the ****” guy coming into office, we wanted to stand up for women,” Vial explains. “We flew to D.C. for the Women’s March. It was overwhelming to what rose up out of the negativity of our president. I’m the most apolitical, non-confrontational person, but it felt like everybody had to get engaged and participate.”

Other striking tracks include the roaring bluesy rock of “Not Takin’ Your S#!t,” which Vial wrote for the Willie K Blues Festival, the fierce “Suburbia,” and the passionate rocker “Panic,” which was inspired by the tragic death of a friend.

“I had a very close friend who basically drank herself to death,” Vial says. “It made me have to look inwards at my own drinking, and question, ‘was I an alcoholic?’ So it’s about just reminding myself to panic when I find myself drinking night after night by myself, and maybe there’s an issue.”

The impressive lead guitar work is all handled by Barrett, who has been playing guitar since forming the all-girl band Boycott at the age of 17 in Lubbock, Texas.

“We’d open up for Lita Ford and Wendy O. Williams,” Barrett recalls. “In my formative years, all I did was sit in my room and play guitar. Eric was very encouraging. He’s worked with so many great bands, so when he’d go, ‘let’s do a solo,’ I’d be a little intimidated.”

Helmkamp was drawn to working with Vial and Barrett after seeing them rock out at a show. “I saw them play live right before I met them,” he says. “When you see someone play live and really kick ass you know there’s something there. Seeing them play live put the hook in me. Getting to know them, it all happened pretty organically. We didn’t have a real plan. Half way through it turned into this really heavy rock record with what was going on in the world and our personal lives.”

First singing in church, Vial remembers attending New Orleans Mardi Gras while she was in school, and being influenced by legends like soul queen Irma Thomas. Later in Dallas, she performed solo and then hooked up with Barrett in the popular local group Astrogen.

“We got together as a couple and then I took the place of her singer,” she says. “Caron owned a record label in Dallas and I signed to the label.”

Moving to Maui in 2004, they began playing at various fundraising performances.

“I didn’t want to move to Maui because I was worried my life would be singing in hotels with people telling me to be quiet,” she says laughing. “Caron wanted to move here.”

Besides music they have also contributed to our island by donating thousands of dollars to many island charities and non-profits from a trust Barrett had set up. The beneficiaries ranged from the Maui Food Bank, the Maui AIDS Foundation and the Maui Academy of Performing Arts to the Trinity Episcopal Church by-the-Sea and Mana’o Radio.

“I had started a charitable trust in 1998,” says Barrett. “It was super fun to do. We wanted to make sure to give to a bunch of local charities.”

The Deborah Vial Band will likely play some future club gigs in April.

Along with Vial, Barrett and Helmkamp, the core band features drummer James Bowersox and bassist John Michael Jelliffe. Shea Derrick added backing vocals on the album, and guitarist Kennedy Cantu played on the track “Perfect World.”

“Recording the CD was a labor love,” Vial concludes. “It was supposed to be a three to four month adventure and it lasted over a year. It was a lot of work. We’re so proud of it.”

“Part of the reason it was a long journey was we took our time and broke the songs down and built them back up,” Helmkamp adds. “We’d throw out a lot of ideas and wrote together. Deb would take the ideas and organize them and come out with a great song structure.”

* “The Giant” is available on CD Baby and iTunes as well as other digital formats.

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The Tony Award-winner singer/actress Debbie Gravitte will join fellow Broadway entertainer Sal Viviano and Maui Pops Orchestra in a Spring Pops “The Sweet Sounds of Big Band” concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.

Making her Broadway debut in 1979, Gravitte won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” A favorite with symphony audiences, she has sung with over 175 orchestras around the world including the Moscow and London symphony orchestras and the Munich Philharmonic.

She has starred in several PBS specials and was one of the voices in Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” Her albums include “Big Band Broadway.”

Viviano began his career in Chicago before moving to New York City. He made his Broadway debut in “The Three Musketeers,” followed by co-starring roles in the Broadway hits “Romance/Romance,” “City of Angels” and “The Full Monty.” His TV and movie work has included “Legally Blonde 2,” “Law and Order” and “All in the Family.”

The Pops concert will feature selections by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Paul Anka, Ray Charles, Glenn Miller, and more.

* Tickets are $22, $35, $50 and $60 along with half-price for students 18 and younger with an ID except for the $22 seats (plus applicable fees). For more details, call 242-7469, visit www .mauiarts.org or head to the box office.

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One-man band Tavana heads to MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Employing electronic drum triggers to lay down a variety of grooves with his feet to accompany himself on guitar, banjo, lap steel and ukulele, Tavana performs soulful, island-inspired rock and blues.

In concert he has been the supporting act for Shakey Graves, Alabama Shakes, Xavier Rudd and Kaleo, and has performed and recorded with Eddie Vedder, John Cru and Henry Kapono.

Tavana’s 2017 album, “Aloha Spirit,” was nominated for a Hoku Award for Best Contemporary Album of the Year. He just performed at the Wanderlust festival on Oahu featuring headliner Corinne Bailey Rae, who was amazing at her MACC debut.

* Tickets are $30, $45, and $65 (plus applicable fees).

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Saturday evening at 7 at the Maui Coffee Attic, 2ality features Steve Grimes and Steve Stusser, with originals from folk to funk.

* Tickets are $20 and $45.

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