#15 - The Sons of Hawaii - Christmas Time

The Sons of Hawaii’s history has already been well chronicled – by Kamae himself, a man of many talents including documentary film maker, as well as by collaborator James Houston in their story of Kamae and the Sons simply entitle Hawaiian Son. But at the holidays, we must acknowledge a Sons’ LP that did what no holiday album from Hawai`i dared to attempt previously: Turn time backwards. Which, after all, is what so many of us seek to do at this time of year, a time that is largely about memories.

The cover hinted at the delights within – a tree-sheltered grove, the glow of the porch light from a mythical one-room house beloved by its fictitious family, kupuna in rocking chairs being serenaded by their nephews with guitars and `ukulele, the family mule listening attentively, all rendered in oil as only artist Herb Kawainui Kane can. (There were more Kane works commissioned for the half-hour television special Eddie produced to accompany the release of the album.)

And then there is the music. The Sons went through a lot of changes over the years – Gabby Pahinui eventually out of the group over (among other things) his repeated disputes with Kamae over what constitutes “Hawaiian enough.” Then there were guitarists Bobby Larrison and Atta Isaacs, both fine additions to the group but perhaps not the sound Kamae had been searching for. Ironically it was the incarnation that featured a slack key guitarist and composer a generation younger that helped Kamae find the sound he was looking for that was sodeeply rooted in the past. Fortunately, young Dennis Kamakahi was willing – and able – to take the trip back in time with Kamae. In the very beginning of their time together the group would open each performance by saying, “We are The Sons of Hawaii, and we are  Hawaiian.” But even in its early days the group’s music was not staunchly traditional – bringing to bear elements from the jazz, classical, and rock idioms. By contrast, the 70s version with Kamae, Kamakahi, bassist and arranger Joe Marshall, and steel guitar legend David ‘Feets’ Rogers was the most Hawaiian aggregation leader Kamae had assembled to date – opting not for the tricky diminished and augmented runs that previously characterized their intros, endings, and solos, but, rather, for a true folk music sound, completely acoustic (except for Rogers’ steel guitar) and completely (there is no other word for it) raw, as if they were sitting around the porch waiting for the mule to bray.

Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii opens with “I Love Christmas,” now a staple of the Hawaiian holiday repertoire but then a brand new composition by Eddie and wife Myrna with a little help from Hawaiian language and cultural expert Mary Kawena Pukui. Because the song is really for the kids, the Sons share the stage here with the Honolulu Boy Choir. The album would be classic if only for this contribution to the Hawaiian holiday cannon. But it also holds in store other delights – two new compositions from the pen of then 26-year-old Kamakahi (such as “Christmas Memories” heard here on which Dennis harmonizes with himself through the magic of a recording studio), Feets’ dazzling steel guitar work on “La Kalikimaka” (or “Christmas Day”), and Kamae’s vocals on “Ho`onani I Ka Hale” (the song you know better as “Deck The Halls”).

A careful curator of his own legacy (and owner of his own production company, Hawaii Sons), Kamae has not permitted the online music streaming services access to his catalog. But you can purchase the MP3 version of the complete album from iTunes and Amazon.com.

A few years ago this album would have ranked even higher on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. But so many wonderful holiday albums have come out of Hawai`i in just the last 20 years that Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii has dropped a few places on the list – but not in my heart.

Next time: #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 15_Christmas_-_Eddie_Kamae__The_Sons_of_Hawaii_-_Christmas_Time.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:46am EDT