From its alluring, retro cover to the last strains of steel guitar on the closing song, Raiatea Helm's latest CD embraces us in a sea of nostalgia.
Following her brilliant collaboration with Keola Beamer, Molokai's young female falsetto star has set her sights on a bygone era, evoking the romance and magic of a simpler time.
"At the beginning of my musical journey when I was 15, my dad had given me two CDs, one by Lena Machada and by Leinaala Heine," she explains the project's inspiration. "And I fell in love with Leinaala's sound because she had these cool arrangements with the (percussive) brushes and vibes and piano and cool jazz guitar. She had one song 'Namolokama,' and I fell in love with it. So from then on to now it was all about planning and preparing and being able to do justice to that sound."
* Raiatea Helm “Sea of Love” Raiatea Helm Records
* Joe Caro “Home Alone” Nuttjob Records
* Freeradicals Projekt 'Soulfire Radio' Think Radical Records
Surrounded by a stellar group including Bobby Ingano on steel guitar, Jeff Peterson on guitar, Noel Okimoto on drums and vibes, Kit Ebersbach on piano, Dean Taba on acoustic bass, Bryan Tolentino on ukulele and Kapono Band's Lopaka Colon on percussion, Raiatea eloquently re-imagines the Hawaiian club music of '50s and '60s Waikiki.
"This particular period was called club music and it was performed in Waikiki," she continues. "I've always wanted to do an album like this. I love to sing old Hawaiian songs. It makes people happy."
Beginning with Leina'ala Haili's "Namolokama," she contacted Harry B. Soria Jr., a fount of vintage Hawaiian repertoire, searching out songs that would fit the project. Then she brought in Kit Ebersbach to craft imaginative arrangements of the familiar material.
Mixing classic Hawaiian, hapa haole and pop songs, Raiatea weaves her vocal magic on a classy collection of compositions that enhance her artistry and further cement her reputation as one of Hawaii's most gifted artists.
We're immediately swept back to the past with the opening " 'Aina 'O Molokai," a sweet homage to her home island, accented by the evocative sound of Ingano's steel guitar and Okimoto's tropical "exotica" vibes.
Next, she visits Kauai with a cover of Peter Kai Davis's "Nani Hanalei," holding impossibly long notes. Later she mesmerizes with a gorgeous version of "Ka Punahou."
English language songs include a jazzy take on the classic "The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai" (giving a chance for the band to stretch out); while she sings both Hawaiian and English lyrics on the title track, "Sea of Love." Accompanied simply by ukulele she delivers a charming version of this late '50s hit by Phillip Baptiste, which was later reinterpreted by Robert Plant and the Honeydripppers in 1985, and by Cat Power in the cult movie "Juno."
The one contemporary tune, the beautiful "Ka Beauty Mahiehie," was composed for her by her uncle, kumu hula Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett.
To close the album, Raiatea reaches back to the 1930s and a celluloid vision of tropical romance with "Moonlight and Shadows," originally recorded by Dorothy Lamour for the movie "The Jungle Princess." It's one of the CD's highlights, that recalls her work on Matt Catingub's "Return to Romance" project.
"I really admire the romance side of old Waikiki," she says. "I love looking at old pictures of Hawaii. The music was more vivid than today. You could see and feel the water and sand and palm tress. They were so classy and dressed nice. And all of a sudden it went away."
A twice-Grammy nominated, multi-Na Hoku award winner, Raiatea decided to buck contemporary recording techniques and have all the musicians playing live in the studio.
"We had all the band members plugged in one time, like how it was 40 or 50 years ago," she explains. "It's definitely my favorite album, because this is all me. I came up with the song list, I chose the people to work with, and I was my own producer. It's like a fresh, new start."
Joe Caro's new CD is a marvel of modern recording techniques. Now happily living on Maui's east side, this former New York-based ace guitarist created his instrumental tour de force, "Home Alone," on his laptop.
But this is no garage vanity project, for Joe's extensive credits include recording and/or touring with the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Eagles, Bon Jovi, Bette Middler, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Michael McDonald.
"This is the first time I stepped out and did the whole thing myself," Joe explains. "In New York I had my own studio and now I live out in the jungle. I literally tried to keep it down to just a laptop, and all my guitar stuff was plugged directly into the computer. I'm usually allergic to that, because I have all kinds of vintage guitars and amps and I love going into the studio."
While his first solo album highlights his remarkable guitar prowess, he's joined through the wonders of technology by such A-list buddies as keyboardist Ricky Peterson, bassist Will Lee and drummers Steve Ferrone, Anton Fig and Shawn Pelton.
Peterson is best known for his 20-year association with saxophone legend David Sanborn, and having played with Prince, Billy Joel, Sting and James Taylor. Currently touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ferrone's credits include time with Eric Clapton, George Benson and Chaka Khan.
When he's not playing nightly on the "Late Show with David Letterman," over the years Fig has played with scores of great artists including Miles Davis, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Winwood. "Letterman" show bassist Lee has recorded with the likes of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Mick Jagger.
"We all used to play on each other's records, and now it's, 'You want me to play on your record, email me the track,'" he notes.
A few years back Joe was part of the brilliant "A New York Minute" jazz concert at the MACC. Living here for five years, he sometimes jams at a few Maui settings when friends visit, and he was a member of the group Acid Reign, which revived the glory of Jimi Hendrix one night.
The all-instrumental "Home Alone" echoes more the phenomenal fusion techniques of Jeff Beck than Hendrix's sonic mastery. Like Beck, he doesn't waste a note, effortlessly coaxing a gamut of sounds out of his guitar from pastoral to boldly muscular.
"When we were in the studio it was all about playing every different style and trying to be really good at every different style," he continues. "Some friends wanted me to do a blues record and others, this or that, and it ended up having a lot of different elements. In the end I called it 'bluesion,' blues guitar with a lot of different musical influences."
Enhanced with subtle orchestration, the relaxed, dreamy tone of "Clear" opens the CD, reflecting the influence of our islands' beauty. Then, with a sampled Arabic lyric, this virtuoso guitarist erupts with the explosive fusion of "The Calling," propelled by Fig, Lee and Peterson.
And so it goes - reflective works like "Dawn" with its Hawaiian chant, and the lovely ballad "Going Home," balanced with grinding blues-flavored rockers like "Sludge" and the power-crunching "Drill Baby Drill."
And to close, he features the one cover in this primarily original project, an amazing instrumental version of the Beatles' psychedelic classic "Strawberry Fields Forever."
Joe Caro will perform with drummer Anton Fig at Charley's on Dec. 2.
You might expect a recording of the sophisticated caliber of "Soulfire Radio" to emanate from London or L.A. but Haiku?
Maui's Freeradicals Projekt marries elements from hip-hop, classic soul, funk, jazz and dance music into an irresistible, fresh brew that favorably compares with the work of American ensembles like The Fugees and the U.K.'s Brand New Heavies and Incognito.
Led by Argentinean guitarist Rama Covarrubias, the Projekt fields emcee Francisco "Frankie" Perez, vocalist Shea Derrick, saxophonist Ami Schorr and percussionist Michael Lawton.
With Rama conjuring up the music, Frankie crafts most of the lyrics.
"I had a body of work and Rama had a body of work and we married the two together," Frankie explains. "It worked really well."
Moving bodies and uplifting spirits, the Projekt aims high with potent lyrics, combining Frankie's positive rapping and Shea's classic soul vocalizing, all laced with funky guitars, sax and percussion.
"I listened to a lot of rap growing up and salsa music, and I love the old soul stuff," Frankie says.
"Rama was into punk in Argentina and bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Shea loves the old soul, R&B and Motown."
Among the highlights, the moody, hypnotic beat-drive, "Real Recognize Real," exposes right wing-media distortions, declaring: "The media is pumping fear in the hearts of the youth, Spreading that wack news, propaganda, libel, slander."
Quoting Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me," "Better Days" expresses the struggles of modern time, while on the Latin-flavored "Isla," Frankie reflects his Cuban and Puerto Rican roots singing in Spanish and English. And they close with their most groovilicious, dance-floor-directed tunes, "Suite Galactic" and "Pipe Smoke."
Already in process of composing songs for the next album, their future looks very bright indeed. ?