The title of Makana's third album ("Ki Ho'alu" means "to loosen the keys [or slack the strings]" on an instrument in Hawaiian) and his appearance on the cover in native garb signal that the disc is his take on traditional Hawaiian slack key guitar music, and he follows through on that promise, playing his versions of some of the basic tunes in the repertoire, starting with "How'd Ya Do," Andy Iona's song, which dates back to the 1920s. Other masters of the form are recalled, including Fred Punahoa, Leonard Kwan, and Gabby and Cyril Pahinui. But Makana's own teacher, Sonny Chillingworth, is given particular pride of place, with the student rendering his mentor's signature piece, "Makee 'Ailana," and later contributing his own "Song for Sonny." The latter is sung partly in English, suggesting Makana's movement from the traditional approach of his elders to his own style, which comes more to the fore in other original compositions. On this album, he both confirms his place in the tradition and suggests where the music may go next.
Ki Ho'alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key Review
by William Ruhlmann