George Kahumoku Jr.,
Footprints in the Poi
(Kealia Farms, 2003)

George Kahumoku Jr. is so much more than just a musician, he's a way of life. Footprints in the Poi, his latest album, takes you through a selection of songs and tunes recorded live at various venues in California, Washington and Florida. The CD encompasses many aspects of the man's character and life; he is a guitarist, singer, composer, storyteller, comedian, social and historical commentator, sound effects man and so much more.

Although most of the songs are available on other albums, each time Kahumoku performs, he creates something uniquely different. Mood, climate, audience -- so many factors come into play, it's hard to imagine a song played twice the same way.

Nine of the tracks are solo performances; on six, he is accompanied by long-time occasional collaborators, his son Keoki (vocals, ukulele and guitar), Bob Brozman (acoustic steel guitar) and Daniel Ho (ukulele). Here and there, he stands back to let his partners take the limelight, as with Keoki's tremendous interpretation of the Eddie Kamae classic, "Ke 'Ala O Ka Jeep," where George shadows his son's lead vocals and adds animal impersonations, or "Moani Ke'ala," where George's vocals and guitar often take a back seat to Brozman's wild slide playing.

Introductions are generally light-hearted and often irreverent. He rarely seems to take himself seriously, seeing the humorous side of most of his experiences. Yet within the joking and "irrelevancies," there is a poignancy. By the end of the album (or a live performance, for that matter), you are left with the feeling that you know not only about your friend George, his life and the things that matter to him, but also about Hawaii and the Islanders. By combining these introductions with his wide repertoire of Hawaiian music (and more), he casts a spell to draw in his audiences, giving an insight to a wider world.

For students of ki ho'alu, liner notes include guitar tunings and occasional pointers to how Kahumoku has developed his individual style. He gives his explanation on the evolution of slack key, which involves breaking the style down and demonstrating its various components. This is followed by "Waipi'o Valley Song," a classic illustration of his description and a must for budding slack key players.

A live show is not complete without hula and Kahumoku often performs with Nancy Sweeney (who also recorded the album). She is featured dancing, not an easy feat on a sound recording. However, as George calls out the verses, it is easy to imagine her graceful movements recounting the story in dance.

Another aspect of the live show is the interaction with audience. Throughout the recording, there are comments and conversations with all those present, interspersed with Kahumoku's distinctive laugh. (Thoughtfully, he has not fallen into a common trap with concert albums; he has separated the introductions from the music, so it is easy to skip the talking and take Footsteps in the Poi as a near-hour long musical album of 15 tracks).

From the gentle "Kai Malino" to the raucous "Maui Girl," from the sweet and sassy "Mauna Kea Mosquito" to the spiritual "Lokomaika'i," from solo to small combo performances, this is George Kahumoku Jr. at his best. The talent, the humor, the entertainment all combine for a live evening that you can return to again and again.

- Rambles
written by Jamie O'Brien
published 20 December 2003

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