Jim "Kimo" West,
Na Lani O Maui (Maui Skies)
(Westernmost, 2011)

When you think of ki ho'alu (slack key guitar), images of Hawai'i start to form: the ocean, the land, the life, the people. The music reflects the Islands -- it's a vibrant musical tradition that moves from the past to the present and, with albums such as this, will undoubtedly carry on into the future.

Jim "Kimo" West is not Hawaiian, but is someone who took up the style after discovering it and its many possibilities nearly three decades ago. On this album, he has included 15 tracks, many from the Hawaiian repertoire, including half a dozen originals and a lovely interpretation of "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

"Interpretation" is the key to ki ho'alu, and West has really understood. Hawaiians use the word "nahenahe," which means soft and sweet, but is gently powerful: sliding along, hammering on, pulling off the strings along with the use of harmonics and harmonies, all set on a constant alternating bass line are the distinctive sounds. While staying within the tradition, West also adds his own personal touch, something perhaps a little jazzy, creating his own distinctive style.

Whether playing his own bouncy, dancing ragtime tune "Raggedy Slacks," the melodious classic "Hi'ilawe" or the Tin Pan Alley/Hawaiian gem "Hula Blues" (written by Johnny Noble and Sonny Cunha), Kimo has the right approach, making this a 55-minute calming journey into Hawai'i.

Mostly featuring solo guitar work by West -- noting the special ki ho'alu tunings in the sleeve notes, a must for guitar aficionados -- he adds a second (and third) guitar and bass on two tunes and is accompanied on a couple of tracks by Greg Leisz on lap steel and Weissenborn.

West is not just an expressive guitarist, he is also a fine composer and interpreter who has understood and adopted an expressive style. With releases such as this, the tradition lives on and, more than that, it will reach not just people in the Islands, but further away.

music review by
Jamie O'Brien

2 June 2012

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