Amy Hanaiali'i & Willie K,
(Mountain Apple, 1999)

Many of the songs on Nostalgia will be familiar but the interpretations might be a little different to what most people are used to. That's because many of these Hawaiian songs have crossed over into other genres, and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom performs them here closer to their original style.

Amy has a mixed musical background. She has traveled and studied singing, yet has strong connections with traditional Hawaiian music. Her vocals are accessible and appealing. She has a wonderful range, a soulful depth and a natural sound. At times, she leads the music into the realms of jazz, with a sultry swing and a husky enticing lilt; in places, she turns to a vibrant, throbbing approach that makes sitting still impossible; and she fills the spectrum in between with a touch of rock (even a hint of rockabilly), blues and more.

For this to work, she has teamed up with Willie K, who has arranged the songs, produced the album and leads the musicians. He plays guitars, ukulele, bass and percussion and is featured on all tracks. He has a good sense of her vocal qualities and provides sensitive arrangements to complement her approach.

Bobby Ingano plays steel guitar and is joined by Marcus Johnson (bass), Sal Godinez (piano), James Ganeko (drums) and Milan Bertosa (accordion.) Even on the busy tracks, there is purpose to the accompaniment as they color the backgrounds, enhancing the melodies, promoting Amy's vocal work. She sings with great movement, never sounding rushed -- always in control but always emotional.

"Blue Hawaii" presents a wonderful late night feeling of warmth and romance. As a sweeping steel glides effortlessly, a simple strummed ukulele, a gently picked guitar, a chorded accordion and an easy bass give the setting for this tune. Amy has no need of theatrics in her approach -- she allows the melody to envelop the listener and has the versatility to delve into contrasting styles.

On "Kaimana Hila," Amy adds a Latin beat to her approach, and again, the accompaniment follows suit. On "Rock-a-Hula Baby," she has a bite, while on "Tiny Bubbles," a contrasting sultriness (just her, guitar and bass -- a superb combination). "My Little Grass Shack" introduces a near-bossa nova feel and delightful harmonies, but then there is a bluesy depth to "Beyond the Reef."

Reclaiming these songs to their Hawaiian origins only enhances the enjoyment: the language is musical in itself. (But I wonder, is "Making Whoopee" really from Hawaii?) The sleeve notes contain lyrics in Hawaiian, English translations appearing for all but one song, though Amy's voice conveys the meanings in itself. Her clear, soaring vocals deserve a wide audience and a recording like Nostalgia is the perfect album to introduce her to the world.

[ by Jamie O'Brien ]
Rambles: 14 December 2001

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