AIM Recording Company
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Slack key guitar originated in Hawaii in the second half of the 19th century. The strings of a guitar are loosened to create open tunings, DGDGBD probably being the most common. As with fingerstyle guitarists like John Fahey and Leo Kottke, slack-key is played by fretting the strings with the left hand while picking out the bass and melody with the right hand. Slack-key's popularity grew during the 1920s and 1930s, and was featured on songs like Moonlight Bay or Jimmie Rodgers' Waiting for a Train. |
On Slack-key Vagabond, Mika'ele McClellan explores music that he discovered while traveling around the world. From Israel to Japan to Greece, McClellan interprets these instrumentals on the slack-key guitar, performing solo except on Pala'ai Hula and Zacatecas where he is joined Pila McClellan on ukulele. The songs range from Bill Towne and Emmanuel Hadjidakis' Never on Sunday to a McClellan original, Hokuwelowelo Waltz.
Mi despedida is a Spanish flavored instrumental from Paraguay, with a beautiful melody. The recurring bass riff holds a steady, danceable rhythm throughout its five-minute length. The carefully balanced June Lake Waltz glides as gentle as a lullaby and paints a picture of quiet tranquility. Zacatecas is a slow, steady march that receives a firmer underpinning by the accompanying ukulele. McClellan's most ambitious piece is the twelve-minute 8 Island Medley, a group of anthems for the eight islands of Hawaii. He quickens the pace of each anthem as the instrumental progresses, until he once again slackens the momentum for last section, Hawai'i Aloha, the current state song.
McClellan utilizes at least five different tunings on these fifteen instrumentals, with perhaps DADF#AC# standing out as the most unusual. On Wimoweh and Pala'ai Hula this tuning creates a bright and somewhat dissonant sound, reminiscent of John Fahey's more conservative output during the 1960s. Most of the music on Slack-key Vagabond is indeed gentle and quiet. It is also presented simply, hiding the delicate balance McClellan achieves by playing multiple guitar parts simultaneously. The album also flows as a piece, despite the diverse origins of the material. On Slack-key Vagabond Mika'ele McClellan covers the music of the world through the prism of the Hawaiian guitar with great success.