One of Hawaii's most innovative musicians, Makana has dazzled audiences around the world with his brilliant guitar playing. Adept at many styles, he has taken Hawaiian slack key guitar into uncharted territory. With his latest album, "Ripe," this virtuoso artist has delivered a superb work, which eloquently encompasses the breadth of his diverse range.
"It's like an overview of my entire career," Makana explains about his new project. "It has my roots music and radically progressive things, and acoustic and full production. It's probably the best representation of the diversity of my art. My art has always been diverse, and I've always defied genre categorization."
Having previously produced his own albums, Makana chose to collaborate on "Ripe" with a couple of leading producers, including Ron Nevison, whose studio credits include engineering such landmark recordings as The Who's "Quadrophenia" and Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti;" and Mitchell Froom, who has worked with Los Lobos, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt. Plus Grammy-Award winning musician/ arranger Jeff Bova (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton) contributed keyboards and programming.
JEFF MALLIN photo
Vintage Guitar magazine hails Los Lobos as “America’s most important band.” They are Conrad Lozano (standing, from left), David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez.
Below is a track- by-track overview of the album.
"Ripe" opens with the sunny, bright "Ka'ena Dream," an ode to his love of surfing. "The special thing about that track is it's really my recording debut with the ukulele," he notes. "I've been playing ukulele longer than slack key guitar. And the slack key guitar on it is a tribute to Peter Moon, who is my greatest influence."
Track two is a rather surprising cover of British electro-rockers New Order's hit, "Bizarre Love Triangle." "It's got a sweet, island vibe to it," he says about his version. "I've always been a fan of electronica. I listen to it more than anything these days, down-tempo, lounge electronica."
Makana will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Gannon's: A Pacific View Restaurant in Wailea with a little help from Willie K and Lily Meola. Cost is $25 in advance and $30 night of show. For tickets, call 875-8080.
The catchy "Nectarine" follows with its humorous double entendres reveling in the joys of juicy fruit. "I was hanging out with a girl and trying to impress her with all my fancy guitar playing," he explains its origin. "She wasn't having any of it. She leans over and says, 'Do you know any Jack Johnson?' So I started making up this song, and she loved it. I've been playing it at my shows for a couple of years, and people go crazy over it."
The album's only other cover features Makana displaying his guitar prowess on Led Zeppelin's classic, "Going to California." "That's my slack-rock," he says. "It was awesome to have Ron Nevison produce that because he engineered 'Physical Graffiti.' It was one performance all the way through."
One of the album's many highlights features Makana playing piano on the Elton John-ish, "Manic," where he plumbs the depths of a bipolar manic-obsessive romantic. "It's a powerful song," he says. "I was sitting alone one New Year's Eve, and it just came out. I met Elton John about three years ago. We had a great chat, and I talked to him a couple of times on the phone. He was trying to jump- start my career a little bit. After meeting him I started playing piano, and 'Manic' was the first song I wrote. It talks about the highs and lows of everyday life."
Track six, "Slackmenco," artfully fuses flamenco and slack key styles in a charming instrumental played as a duet with guitarist Jeff Peterson.
With a breezy Crosby, Stills and Nash feel, the moving "When I was a Chile" follows. "It's biographical; it's my life," he reveals. "It's like slack key folk and I'm playing everything."
Next, he pays homage to his roots with the Hawaiian classic, "Hi'ilawe." "It's a tribute to Gabby," he explains. "It's the only analog recording on the album. I believe Hawaiian music needs to go back to analog."
Sounding like a hit Broadway musical number, next we hear the very dramatic, emotional, "Tears." "It's very dear to me," he says. "The intention was to create a song that had a powerful message about loss and musically capture that vibe that Brother Iz had with 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' but a little darker."
The penultimate song, the lovely, "Home," features a terrific duet with Filipina singer Rocky Brown, who performed in the original New York Broadway cast of "Miss Saigon."
And fittingly, he closes "Ripe" with the song that has become a kind of anthem for the Occupy movement, "We Are The Many." Skewering Wall Street's endemic culture of greed, Makana's powerful composition sounds even more epic here, enhanced with strings and a rousing chorus. "I think it's incredible what Ron brought to the mix," he notes. "It has a very anthemic feel. It really supports the lyrical content."
Makana will debut songs from "Ripe" at a CD release party Saturday at Gannon's restaurant in Wailea. Guests Willie K and Lily Meola will join him.
"The album is meant to have a cinematic feel," he concludes. "The first five songs are full of flavor exploding and kind of outrageous and sexy, and as the album goes on, the themes of the songs get more emotional. I wanted the album to be kind of a transformative process for people, entice them in with something light and then take them deeper into themselves."
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, legendary rockers Los Lobos released a new CD in October, "Disconnected in New York City." Recorded live last December, the 13-track, double album finds the band revisiting four decades of novel music.
Often lauded, a profile in Stereophile magazine proclaimed, "Los Lobos is unquestionably America's best folk/rock/pop band. No other group has their range, their talent, their fire." And Vintage Guitar magazine hailed them as "America's most important band."
The core of Los Lobos - Louie Perez (guitar, drums, vocals), David Hidalgo (guitar, violin, accordion, percussion, vocals), Cesar Rosas (guitar, vocals) and Conrad Lozano (bass, vocals) - has played together since 1973, with saxophonist Steve Berlin joining in 1984.
Formed in East Los Angeles, Los Lobos developed a cult following fusing traditional Mexican folkloric influences with rock. Their debut EP recording, "And A Time To Dance," earned a Grammy for best Mexican-American performance.
The band's first album, "How Will The Wolf Survive?," hinted at their eclectic potential, displaying influences ranging from folk and jazz through Tex-Mex to '50s rock.
Named the Band of the Year in 1984 by Rolling Stone, they were catapulted three years later to mainstream success with their cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba." Not wanting to be perceived as a retro-rock outfit, they promptly released, "La Pistola Y El Corazon," a Grammy-winning, all-acoustic recording of traditional Mexican songs.
Defying trends, Los Lobos next produced "The Neighborhood." One of the best albums of 1990, it showcased this powerhouse blasting through a melange of gritty rock, growling blues boogie, soulful folk and searing ballads.
Then they shattered the mold again with "Kiko," an abstract, experimental work hailed by many critics as a crowning achievement. "Colossal Head" followed with the band creating a hallucinogenic hybrid of deconstructed rock, funk, Latin fire and murky blues shuffles.
Their most recent studio work, "Tin Can Trust," released in 2010, was also widely praised. The UK music magazine Uncut raved: " 'Tin Can Trust' is a masterful album from an undeniably great American band, at the peak of its considerable powers."
Beside their impressive album catalogue, the band has contributed to a number of movie soundtracks including "Desperado," "Feeling Minnesota," "The Mambo Kings," "El Mariachi," and "Rango." Band side projects range from backing Paul Simon on "Graceland," to recording songs for Grateful Dead, Fats Domino and Richard Thompson tribute albums. And in 2010, they performed on jazz legend Herbie Hancock's brilliant CD, "The Imagine Project," teamed with Saharan Tuareg group, Tinariwen, on Bob Marley's "Exodus."
* Los Lobos will play at Maui Arts and Cultural Center's Castle Theater in Kahului at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The concert will feature a dance floor. Cost is $40, $45 or $55 (plus fees). For tickets, call 242-7469, or go to the MACC box office.