Multiplatinum-selling, multiple-Grammy-winning musician John Legend makes his Maui debut on Sept. 10 in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Rooted in gospel-inflected soul music, Legend has savvily updated a classic sound for contemporary times. Listening to his latest album, "Evolver," where he teams with current stars such Kanye West, Andre 3000, Will.i.am and Estelle, one can hear echoes of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.
It's no wonder legends like Paul McCartney, Prince, Tony Bennett, and Wonder have all expressed praise for his artistry.
SANDRA CONWAY photo
Tom Conway (left) called it “definitely the best gig of my life” when he and Maui musicians including Michael Buono on drums, backed Willie Nelson presenting songs from Willy’s new “American Classic” CD in a packed release party at Charley’s.
TONY NOVAK-CLIFFORD photo
Back home on Maui after touring with Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood will be playing Stella Blues and the Royal Lahaina Resort in coming weeks with the Mick Fleetwood Band.
Eric Gilliom (left) and Barry Flanagan, here with their pal Jamie Foxx, will bring their dinner show to Cafe Marc Aurel as well as playing in Mick Fleetwood’s band.
"My references for soul music are people like Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield and Al Green," Legend said in an interview with the UK Guardian. "People who made music that had a certain grit to it, that had an authenticity to it, a root in gospel and blues. But I know what soul isn't as well - it's not over-produced, it isn't too slick, it doesn't sound contrived. It sounds like you were pouring your heart out on the record."
And that's one of the keys to his crossover success - he honors the greats, crafting seductive melodies without trying to simply copy a past era or over-complicating his music.
"With piano-flecked soul, lite funk and reggae, 'Evolver's' tunes and arrangements are as impeccable as the cut of Legend's suits," praised Rolling Stone. "Even his taste in guest rappers is upscale."
* John Legend performs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $65, $55 and $45 plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
Born John Stephens in Ohio, by the age of 11 he was conducting and arranging the local church choir. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, he spent three years as a management consultant before quitting to pursue music.
A mutual friend introduced him to Lauryn Hill, who hired him to play piano on her solo album, "The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill." After releasing some independently made CDs, he met Kanye West, who began using Legend as a piano player and backing vocalist on tracks for high-profile clients such as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, as well as on his own music.
"We offered an alternative to the dominant sound," Legend reported in a Daily Mail interview. "Kanye didn't have the persona of a typical rapper. He dressed differently and rapped about different things. And I was different from most mainstream R&B singers."
West oversaw production of Legend's official debut, "Get Lifted," which became a huge global hit, winning three Grammys in 2006, including one for the hit song "Ordinary People," which became a staple of "American Idol" auditions.
"Evolver" closes with an epic, inspiring anthem, "If You're Out There." On this rallying cry for change, he implores: "We're the generation, We can't afford to wait, The future started yesterday, and we're already late." Legend performed it with the 100-person Agape International Choir at the opening of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
"I wrote it while we were on our tour for my Show Me Campaign, the anti-poverty charity and initiative I started," he reported in the Boston Phoenix. "We had been going around speaking to young people at colleges. I wanted to write a song that was a rallying cry to the young people we talked to, to make them want to go out and do something. That worked out perfectly for the timing of the Obama campaign, because it was a central part of what he was telling young people."
Next up, Legend is collaborating with The Roots on an activist album. "It's called 'The Wake-Up Sessions,' " he said in the same interview. "It's made up of remakes from the '60s and '70s, songs about social uplift and political protest."
Last week Willie Nelson hosted a release party for his new CD, "American Classic" at Charley's. This jam-packed "secret" gig featured the country legend playing songs from the new album, along with performances by indie rock group Band of Horses, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and Gail Swanson.
Willie's ace backing band featured Gypsy Pacific's Tom Conway on guitar, bassist Marcus Johnson, guitarist Phil Benoit, keyboardist Brian Cuomo, saxophonist David Choy, and Michael Buono on drums.
"Willie called me a couple of months ago and gave me an advance copy of the record and wanted me to put a band together," explains Tom Conway. "I basically transcribed the entire album and we rehearsed and it turned out real well."
Tom joined Gail Swanson to open the evening, followed by Promise of the Real rocking out with guest vocalist Woody Harrison on Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." Willie joined Band of Horses for their finale of "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys," and stayed on stage to perform most of "American Classic" with the Maui all-stars.
Released on the Blue Note jazz label, the CD sees Willie return to the great American songbook with classic tunes like "Since I Fell For You" and "Fly Me to The Moon."
"He purposely wanted the show to coincide with the official release of the album," says Tom. "It was unbelievable, definitely the best gig of my life." The show was videotaped by MySpace and Sirius XM Radio will broadcast it some time soon. Tom and Gypsy Pacific previously collaborated with the country legend, recording 18 tracks for a forthcoming album.
I'm off to Europe for a few weeks so here's a preview of some more upcoming shows. Fresh from rocking the world with Fleetwood Mac on tour, drummer Mick Fleetwood returns home to play two shows, Stella Blues at 9 p.m. Sept. 11, and under the stars at the Royal Lahaina Resort on Sept. 13. It's billed as the Mick Fleetwood Band with special guests, which means a teaming of the M.F. Blues Band featuring guitarist Rick Vitto and Island Rumors members Eric Gilliom and Gretchen Rhodes, plus Hapa's Barry Flanagan. Sounds hot.
Having previously entertained folks with their crowd-pleasing special dinner shows Eric Gilliom and Barry Flanagan will present their intimate acoustic show at Wailuku's Cafe Marc Aurel on Saturday evening.
Dinner seating at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $47.50, or $25 for show only. Call 280-6363 for reservations
Keali'i Kaneali'i, co-founder of the original Hapa, will also play on Maui this weekend. Keal'i has just released a new CD, "Kauai," featuring five new songs plus interpretations of some Hawaiian classics.
He will debut songs from the CD at Mulligan's on the Blue in Wailea on Friday, performing with the Kaneali'i Trio and hula dancer Healani Youn. Dinner and show $35, $15 for the show. For reservations, call 874-1131.
And he'll repeat a similar show as a duo plus hula dancer Youn on Saturday night at the Rusty Harpoon in Kaanapali. Dinner and show $35, $15 for the show. For reservations call 661-3123.
Another CD release party planned for Saturday features kumu hula Keli'i Tau'a and David Kauahikaua presenting their new album, "Hoku," at the Ale House in Kahului. "Hoku" celebrates the voyage of the celebrated canoe Hokule'a to Micronesia and Japan.
The duo previously collaborated on the album "Cloud Warriors," which explored Maui's natural treasures with a collection of original songs, sung in Hawaiian, cast in a contemporary musical setting that embraced jazz and pop influences.
In 1977, Tau'a and Roland Cazimero created the Hoku-winning tribute album "Hokule'a - The Musical Saga." Kauahikaua is a veteran producer/arranger who has worked with Don Ho, Loyal Garner and Frank De Lima.
The CD release party will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Admission is free.
A diverse group of musicians known as Caravan will present an eclectic ethnic showcase at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13 in the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater.
The program includes classical Indian music, songs of Rabindranath Tagore, Mevlevi classical music, Turkish Sufi music, Middle Eastern music, and upbeat Eastern European Gipsy songs. Featuring Don Lax (violin), Andrea Walls (violin), Danny Burch (sarode), Manju Chattopadhyay (vocals, harmonium), Tanya Chattopadhyay (vocals, tambura), John McClean (oud, guitar), and Alan Crammatte (doumbek, tabla). Tickets are $25, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC.
Singer/chanter Donna De Lory returns to our island to perform with tabla player Ty Burhoe presenting songs from her latest album, "Sanctury," at The Studio Maui on Sept. 25.
Since 1987, De Lory has performed before audiences in stadiums around the world as a backing singer on Madonna's spectacular tours. As a solo artist, she enchants with devotional and ethereal pop music in the more tranquil surroundings of yoga centers.
De Lory has backed Madonna on hit albums like "Ray of Light" and "Like a Prayer," while the pop star sang on her debut album. Attracted to the innovative music of Anglo-Indian singer Sheila Chandra and the mystical quaali music of Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, De Lory became interested in performing devotional music and empowering Sanskrit mantras. Exploring familiar chants such as "Hare Krishna" she adds a unique twist, injecting chill beats and electronica textures.
Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Plus she will participate at a "5 Rhythms Celebration" with Kabba Anand and Amara Pagano on Sept. 26. Tickets are $20 presale, $25 at door, or dinner/dance for $30 presale, and $40 at door.