Pali is a Honolulu-based duo featuring Kevin Kashiwai on vocals and guitar and Pali Tuan W. Ka'aihue on vocals, guitar, ukulele, bass, vocals and percussion. The 15 years they have spent performing together is reflected in this recording: distinctive but complementary lead vocals, close-knit harmonies, arrangements drawing out the best in the instruments, songs that fit and, perhaps most of all, an overall warmth and movement in the music which is hard to ignore.
Hawaii is home to a number of diverse styles, traditional and contemporary, which have affected music elsewhere. And in turn, music has traveled to the Islands and influenced playing there. Pali presents a dozen songs and tunes that reflect this exchange.
Although the musicians are both tenors, their voices veer in different directions -- Kashiwai's vocals are a little higher, with an attractive power well-suited to the songs he's chosen; Ka'aihue creates a warm, emotional element that wrenches the heart. Yet in spite of their distinctive voices, both musicians are able to step back and provide harmony lines that support and extend the melody singing of the other without intruding.
Instrumentally, Ka'aihue takes most of the spotlight. His guitar work is outstanding, especially on the three non-vocal tracks. Each possesses a distinct character. Like much of the album, he composed "Keli'i Slack Key." Although the approach is relatively modern, he still captures the timelessness of slack key. It's not ki ho'alu in the traditional sense, but it's effective. On "Love...," there is a gentle atmosphere with the lead guitar exploring possibilities around a chord progression. The third instrumental is a blockbuster of a track that ends the album, but more about that later.
Elsewhere on the album, his touches (especially on ukulele) add fascinating color to the songs. However, without the bed provided by the accompaniment, the album would wander aimlessly. His bass and percussion work are outstanding. The same can be said about Kashiwai's rhythm guitar playing. And like the singing, the duo fits together perfectly.
Choosing the highlight of the album is simply not possible -- it's literally a collection of highlights. Having said that, the two reggae songs are irresistible, especially "Tropical Island Day," not only for the infectious rhythm, but also for Kashiwai's playful lead.
Pali is comfortable not just with uptempo songs such as these. The Island contemporary song "Ku'u Lei Nani," for example, presents Ka'aihue in his most inviting as he sings of love. (At least, I think it's a love song. There is an English translation of the lyrics; however, Hawaiian songs are rich in imagery and possess hidden meanings that often don't carry into other languages.)
Which brings us to the final track of the album, the third instrumental. Throughout the album, Pali presents many facets of Hawaiian music. And without compromising their traditions, they connect with music from other cultures. Pali reaches its climax with their interpretation of "Misirlou," a tune by the King of Surf Music, Dick Dale. A dark guitar chops the rhythm, emphasized by the pounding bass and hand claps. The fascinating lead guitar, full of trills and harmonies, explores the theme, conjuring up exotic and erotic images. Kashiwai and Ka'aihue understand and love the music they're playing. You'd be hard pressed to ignore it.