"Weird Al" Yankovic guitarist Jim Kimo West pays homage to Hawaii with sublime slack-key instrumentals

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Jim Kimo West
As the longtime guitarist for Grammy-winning satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic, Jim Kimo West has heard a lifetime of good-natured laughter. However, West's own discography is light years apart from Yankovic's inventive and often hilarious pop-music parodies. In fact, West's latest solo record, Na Lani O Maui-Maui Skies, is even miles away from the mainland as he pays homage to the awe-inspiring beauty of Hawaii.

But West's decision to beam the spotlight on Hawaii is not for superficial reasons; this isn't some tourist's postcard although his surface affection for the tropical utopia is clearly evident. There is a deeper context here, one that is rooted in West's musical style of choice. West is a lifelong student of the fingerstyle technique of slack-key guitar, which actually originated in Hawaii. In the late 19th century, Mexican cowboys left guitars to Hawaiian natives along with some pieces of instruction; once they were gone, those rookie guitarists began experimenting with the instrument, creating a new genre of music in the process.

West's knowledge of slack-key guitar is vividly expressed in both his keen performances of covers as well as his own dynamite songwriting. West's version of Sonny Cunha's “Hula Blues" is what you'd expect a Hawaiian-themed track to sound like, brimming with a sunny, playful groove. “Maui Skies," a West original, is as evocative as its title promises; the liquid flow of West's guitar achieves that perfect balance of caressing the ears while awakening the mind to pictures of blankets of clouds hovering over a bed of blue ocean.

That West is able to produce music as sublime and picturesque as this while contributing to Yankovic's funny send-ups reveals a versatile and impeccable artist who awaits discovery.

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