Darren Benitez

Dear Mama

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    5
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This third release from falsetto master Darren Benitez contains more of what made him popular in the first place -- lots of crisp ukulele, lots of casual falsetto singing, and a little bit of straightforward country music. Benitez built these songs in conjunction with Johnny Lum Ho for the most part, though a few are his own compositions. For some listeners, the ultra-soft ballads will be the main attraction -- in English they can get a bit monotonous, but in Hawaiian they get a softer sheen and the lyrical content gives way for the melodic content. For some listeners, however, the slightly more uke-heavy items will be the real stars. When he gets into a groove, as in the Spanish "El Bom Bom de Elena," an excellent bounce jumps out that changes the balladic tone of the album completely. Benitez never goes into the high-flying contemporary styling that's becoming popular, but instead keeps to more of an accompaniment style, with little strums and catches. Guest stars tend to do the heavy lifting on longer solos, with Sean Na'auao and Kehau Tamure both making appearances. Ultimately, for all of Benitez' abilities in falsetto, the album comes off a bit lackluster -- while hearing a bit of falsetto in English is a nice surprise, the bulk of the album sounds like one long ballad. Only under the influence of compatriots the Four Amigos in "El Bom Bom," or the steel guitar skill of Greg Sardinha in "What Tutu Said" does the sound pick up for something more interesting. Fans of Benitez' previous work should welcome this album as a good forward development in his sound. General Hawaiian music fans, though, should probably look to other avenues for exploration.

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