Cindy Combs - Slack Key Lady

Cindy Combs


Dancing Cat Records
PO Box 639
Santa Cruz, CA 95061

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Jamie O'Brien

The treasures of Hawaii are not limited to its spectacular scenery, culinary delights and perfect climate. In some of the out-of-the-way places you just might come across the music of the islands played by local musicians, particularly slack key guitar playing.

Cindy Combs is one of the best of these musicians. Though born in California and having traveled extensively as a child, she has lived on the island of Kaua'i for many years. Her musical career took her through the folk era of the '60s until she enveloped herself in slack key playing under the tutelage of the legendary Keola Beamer. Over the years she's written numerous songs, recorded with a number of other musicians, and now releases this, her second solo album.

The influences of other styles and musicians are delightfully apparent on this hour-long recording. One moment she is sultry and smoky with a jazz-tinged version of the Hawaiian standard Sweet Leilani; the next moment, she is gentle and rolling as she leans a little more into a traditional vocal approach on Kipu, her own song.

Reaching deep into the Hawaiian repertoire, she presents eight tunes and four songs. These include her own compositions along with standards from the classic days of a century ago, from the 1930s, and from more recent times, including pieces by Beamer, Jerry Santos, Cyril Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi and others.

Throughout the album, her distinctive softer style of picking unifies the diverse material. She has a more folky sound than many other guitarists, yet still possesses the warmth and flow of slack key. Rolling bass lines, harmonics, cascades - hallmarks of the style - are all present, but they run nicely along with a more mainstream (or mainland) way of picking.

Dancing Cat Records deserve some kind of honor. As with their other slack key releases, the accompanying notes are well-written, informative and interesting. They present a potted history of Combs, details on tune origins and guitar tunings used, as well as a short discography. Add to that the excellent production and the care that has gone into all aspects of the release.

Cindy Combs presents a dozen tracks illustrating her style which incorporates a varied musical approach. She adds her own magical instrumental touches, as the anthem-like Kaulana Na Pua shows, especially in her creative finale. Her soulful vocals lift songs away from the syrupy to the sublime. It may be a quieter album than many slack key guitar recordings I have heard, but that is not a bad thing. It's another facet of a wonderful genre.

Track List:

  • Hi'ilawe (traditional)
  • Kalena Kai
  • Sweet Leilani (Harry Owens)
  • Roselani Blossoms
  • Kipu (Cindy Combs)
  • Ke Welina (Cindy Combs)
  • Makani Ula'ula (Keola Beamer)
  • Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u (Jerry Santos)
  • Kaulana Na Pua (Ellen Keho'ohiwaokalani Prendergast)
  • Wahine 'Ilikea (Dennis Kamakahi)
  • Sweet Memory (Cyril Pahinui, Brian Hussey, Larry Lindsey Kimura)
  • Whispering Hope (Alice Hawthorne)

Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz

Copyright 2001, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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