Darlene Ahuna is truly one of the greats of Hawaiian music. Whether she's singing traditional or hapa haole songs, in English or Hawaiian, her expressive vocals transcend style and language, opening up a whole new world to the listener. She has a tremendous understanding of the different styles in Hawaiian music and interprets her material with deep emotion and vocal variety.
Her gentle side comes across in songs like Ke Anuenue. In spite of the hard consonants and glottal stops in the lyrics, a melodic, rounded sound emerges which is only enhanced by the guitar, ukulele and steel guitar accompaniment.
Yet she is also so at ease with falsetto singing, as found on U'ilani, a bilingual Lena Machado song. The Hawaiian approach to this style of singing particularly emphasizes the break between normal register and falsetto - Ahuna makes this jump with great effectiveness. Ku'u Lei introduces jazz chord progressions on guitar while steel guitar mirrors her efforts, bringing to mind such words as 'cool'. It is very easy to get used to this style of music with its conjuring of tropical images. This is especially so with the Mary Robins and Johnny Noble song Pupu 'O Ni'iha, sung in classic falsetto style.
Although it is still easy to appreciate her talent on hapa haole songs such as Sophisticated Hula, Blue Hawaii, and In a Little Hula Heaven, at times they flirt a little too closely with 'Hollywood' for my liking. However, they are well-spaced throughout the album, providing contrast rather than drawing attention.
The arrangements allow the musicians to develop themes and provide color without detracting from Ahuna's vocals. The accompaniment revolves around acoustic guitar, ukulele, bass and steel guitar with occasional percussion and background vocals; Ahuna plays 12-string guitar.
A Bridge Between Generations is an apt title for the album. Dalene Ahuna reaches back through the years for her material: songs written by Edith Kanaka'ole, Harry Owens, Joseph Kapaeaeau Ae'a nestle among Bing Crosby songs and classic hula. Her performance is timeless, at one with the legendary singers of bygone days as well as with the newest wave of today's young women falsetto singers.
Perhaps she reaches the highest point with Kalamaula, a duet with steel guitarist Ken Emerson, in which her voice and his guitar soar and glide through the expressive melody to the accompaniment of a gently strummed ukulele and guitar, nahenahe (soft and sweet) at its finest.
Even when singing songs often associated with other performers (such as Lena Machado or even Bing Crosby), she adopts the songs with her own special touch. A Bridge Between Generations is a fine example of the dynamic singing of Darlene Ahuna and an enjoyable introduction to her work and to classic Hawaiian singing.
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