Wed, 10 December 2014
Winner of the 2001 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Christmas Album of the Year, Ho`okena’s Home for the Holidays is almost perfect. It is Hawai`i’s equivalent of the first holiday album by The Carpenters, and just as the brother and sister duo had a follow-up holiday album that didn’t quite measure up to the perfection of their first, so, too, did Ho`okena. Once you achieve a high water mark in musicianship and production, why try to top it?
Of course, the earlier incarnation of Ho`okena that contributed to Home for the Holidays was larger and even more star-studded than its current incarnation which has reformed as a trio. The current threesome – bassist Chris Kamaka, multi-instrumentalist Horace Dudoit III, and slack key and falsetto master Glen Smith – were previously a quintet with William “Ama” Aarona and founding member, kumu hula, and composer Manu Boyd. It is that five-part harmony that was the signature sound of the group and which warrants the comparison to The Carpenters who – despite being a duo – would overdub their voices in harmony until there were 8, 12, or even 16 virtual Carpenters. While Ho`okena’s musicianship has never been in question, for me it has always been their vocal prowess and intricate vocal arrangements that made the group a standout in contemporary music.
But it is also the song selection that made Ho`okena’s first holiday outing an instant classic to my ears – almost all songs that The Carpenters tackled on either of their two holiday albums. They range from the sacred songs that speak to the true meaning of the season – listen to Boyd’s lead vocal on “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and their uniquely Hawaiian take on “The Little Drummer Boy” – to favorites about home and family – such as Mel Torme and Robert Wells’ “The Christmas Song.” To date, they are still the only Hawaiian music group ever to tackle “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” turning the 6/8 waltz-y classic into a 4/4 cha-lang-a-lang romp. And, of course, there is one of the too few renderings of a holiday classic from the pen of Kui Lee, “The Song of Christmas.”
(Of course, Ho`okena would eventually tackle the ultimate holiday classic from The Carpenters, but it would not be on their own album. But we will save that for later in the countdown.)
Ho`okena’s voices in their unique church choir-type harmony, their Hawaiian spin on holiday classics, and the reality that somehow we can hear their aloha warrant a spot for Home for the Holidays on Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. You can check out the entire album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold.
Next time: #15 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Direct download: 16_Christmas_-_Hookena_-_Home_For_The_Holidays.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:44am EDT