#11 - Na Leo Pilimehana - Christmas Gift

Groups in all places and in all genres come and go. So the fact that 2014 finds Na Leo Pilimehana celebrating their 30th anniversary together with all three original members – Nalani Choy, Angela Morales, and Lehua Kalima – intact is an accomplishment in itself. The fact that they have turned out one cherished recording after another with nary a dull moment among them is a testament to their vocal chops and impeccable taste in selecting songs and musical collaborators. 

Sure, the group has evolved over time. Their first album, Local Boys which featured the radio hit for which the LP was titled, was typical 80s fare from Hawai`i. The vocals were sweet and clear, but the arrangements may have suffered a little bit. (However, despite the keyboards indicative of the era, their version of Andy Cummings’ “Waikiki” from that LP has endured and remains a staple of local Hawai`i radio.) But by the 90s Na Leo (as they are affectionately known, or sometimes simply NLP) hit their stride with such collaborators as Zanuck Kapala Lindsey – leading to such hits as “Saving Forever” (co-written by Lindsey and group member Lehua Kalima), “Flying with Angels,” and their tremendously popular cover of Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man.” In an era which saw such powerhouse women’s vocal trios as Wilson Phillips, Destiny’s Child, TLC and En Vogue, I choose Na Leo every time. And this was not a phenomenon contained to Hawai`i. I could turn on the radio in my then home of Philadelphia and hear their “Poetry Man” at almost any hour of the day. 

The group moves seamlessly through a variety of material which allows their many facets to shine like the jewels they are – from pop covers to The Beatles to originals to a capella to traditional Hawaiian to ­hapa-haole to doo-wop and R&B. But on their 1998 holiday release, Christmas Gift, they a show a side their fans rarely see – taking on an ethereal, almost Celtic Woman-like aura and ethos. When Nalani, Angela, and Lehua sing “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” I must stop everything and simply listen, and I become a Believer all over again because I believe that they Believe too. There is no other way they could sing these lyrics with such conviction. The album also features a far better version of the Robert Cazimero holiday composition “A Christmas Wish” than he performed previously with his brother, Roland. While the combination of the voices of Robert Cazimero and Na Leo may seem magical, somehow together they make the hope for peace, love, and joy a very real possibility. 

Na Leo offered a follow-up to their Christmas classic as soon as three years after this one – the aptly titled Christmas Gift 2 in 2001. And while it is surely fine, the first is still the best and warrants this position – and, arguably, a much higher one – on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can find Christmas Gift and Christmas Gift 2 on such major music streaming services as Spotify and Rhapsody as well as for download to your iPhone or iPod at iTunes and Amazon.com. If you have trouble finding the original, it may be because it was more recently repackaged and rereleased under the title Hawaiian Holidays: Christmas with Na Leo. But in my humble opinion, the original title was more fitting as the album was truly a gift to the world.

Next time: We finally break the Top Ten on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 11_Christmas_-_Na_Leo_Pilimehana_-_Christmas_Gift.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:32am EDT