Invented in Hawaii by Joseph Kekuku around 1889 (although the first electric lap steel, invented by George Beaucham, preceded it in 1931), the steel guitar and its slack key style transformed American music, with 78 rpm records featuring its lilting sound outselling every other genre of music in the United States in 1916, and eventually giving birth to country, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Perhaps the most famous and most successful proponents of Hawaiian guitar music was Wout Steenhuis, who, ironically, was actually Dutch, the founder of the Dutch Swing College Band and came to fame in England during the 60s with his easy listening recordings.
The music of the Hawaiian islands, along with the guitar work of Hank Marvin, was a formative influence of Cole, a legend of the pedal steel, and, in company with old friend Eastoe, an expert on the slack key guitar style, he returns to it here on a set of original material, joined by Hank Wangford on ukulele for a co-write, Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone and Katie Kehau Kahananui on lead and backing vocals.
The titles pretty much tell you what you expect, the likes of ‘Blue Aloha’, ‘Waltz Of The Dolphins’ and ‘Down In Old Hawaii’ conjuring images of loas, hula dances and gentle surf on sandy beaches.
Opening with the gently swaying ‘Slinky Hula Heaven’, it’s predominantly instrumental, although the three subsequent numbers are all vocals. Eastoe takes lead on ‘Down In Old Hawaii’, basically a sung history of the guitar in Hawaii, with Cole, who plays pedal steel and dobro featured on ‘Tipsy Doodle’ and Wangford handling duties for the shuffling ‘Paniolo Song’ which has a tinge of TexMex to it too.
The others are all instrumentals, ‘Muscle Beach’ introducing a touch of jazzy slink with the double bass and vibraphone tinkling on Little Gem Waltz’, ending with the five and a half minute dobro picked and steel cascading notes of ‘Blue Aloah’. Steeped in nostalgia, it’s a definite sore thumb among the plethora of folk and Americana album that have surfaced in recent months, but certainly one that repays sucking.
Artist’s website: www.bjcole.co.uk