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Interview: Slack-Key Guitarist Jim "Kimo" West On New Christmas CD

Published: 2013-12-15
Jim "Kimo" West Q: You have a new Christmas album. You released “Kimo's Hawaiian Slack-Key Christmas" in 2008. How would you say this CD differs?

A: “Ki Ho'alu Christmastime" is my second holiday CD. I recorded it back in January 2013 while the spirit of the season was still intact. Just before Christmas I had been playing around with some slack-key arrangements of “The Christmas Song" and “Sleigh Ride," and since my schedule was pretty open, I went ahead and recorded those and 10 more tracks. On this CD I chose a number of songs that were a little more adventurous for a slack-key treatment - some that are more harmonically complex and some that have more unusual arrangements. And since I record my CDs myself, I always try to step up the production quality. I also leaned on a different guitar for this CD, the same model of Taylor guitar I use, but a newer version. And I included a nylon string guitar for some tonal contrast.

Q: Was it a challenge to tweak those Yuletide classics into slack-key guitar entries?

A: Some the songs were quite tricky to arrange for the slack-key style, such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and “Sleigh Ride." They are hard enough to play in standard tuning but adding the open tuning element requires some research and fingering gymnastics.

Q: Did you draw inspiration from any other artists before recording this CD?

A: I did study the original arrangements of the more modern holiday songs pretty closely so they were really the primary inspiration but with all the songs, I tried to make them fit naturally into the slack-key aesthetic.

Q: How did you select the songs to cover on it?

A: I made a master list and started throwing the ones that just didn't seem to work with the genre. Minor keys are a problem with anything Hawaiian but I managed to sneak a few minor chords in there. And I also tried to make sure I had a good number of public domain songs, as mechanical royalties can add up.

Q: What tracks are you most proud of on the album and why?

A: Well, I guess my favorites are “Sleigh Ride", “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and “The Christmas Song" since they were fairly challenging to arrange for slack-key guitar. But I'm also very fond of “ Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" - it's a beautiful old song with a very engaging chord progression and form, and the slack-key treatment just seemed to be natural.


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