James Bla Pahinui

Guava Soul

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It's wonderful to hear Bla Pahinui (or James Bla Pahinui, to offer his full name) return to what's really his signature piece, "Waimanalo Blues," this time around achingly poignant, the voice deeper and richer than ever before, like burled wood. One of the best all-round Hawaiian musicians, his guitar technique seems to become more minimal -- but more effective -- with each release, and it's especially noticeable on his wonderful versions of traditional songs like "Beauty Hula" and "No Ke Ano Ahiahi," both of which allow him freedom of the fretboard, which he uses sparingly but gorgeously, with his bluesy touches still intact -- always a way to recognize his playing. The production's low key, which is fine in this case, offering an ambience to the sound that just increases the intimacy of "Island Style." To say he's finally come completely into his own sounds condescending, but it's true; he's developed into a consummate artist.

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