Ken Emerson - Sacred Slack & Steel Untitled 1
Ken Emerson - Sacred Slack & Steel
Ken Emerson
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All-Instrumental Slack & Steel Vintage Spirituals

Superb playing, supreme tone, and the distinct sounds of Ken Emerson's vintage National Resophonic guitars redefine classic American spirituals. Emerson takes the music of the past into the future with brilliant results. His unique style called "slack/steel" incorporates traditional slack key techniques with the unique characteristics and sound of steel guitar influenced by 1920s Hawaiian Blues, 1930s Jazz, and 1940s Swing. A fantastic showcase for Emerson's one-of-a-kind guitar skills taking the American spiritual to a new level.

More like a sonic revelation rather just another instrumental guitar album, Sacred Slack & Steel Guitar is a splendid return to form by Hawaiian born / California based Ken Emerson. The music is a fantastic showcase for Ken’s one of a kind guitar skills and, being all instrumental, Sacred Slack & Steel Guitar really allows this timeless music to breathe in its own right. A highly diverse and sonically pleasurable CD of timeless guitar instrumentals, Sacred Slack & Steel Guitar features Ken Emerson taking the classic music of the past deep into the future with brilliant results. Ken Emerson is one of the best kept secrets in American music.

Robert Silverstein ~ Music Web Express 3000 Magazine

Ken Emerson reintroduced Hawaii to the sound of the acoustic steel guitar in the late 1970s when he and brother Phil Emerson recorded a self-titled album in 1979 and did a second milestone album, “South Sea Island Magic,” with Moe Keale in 1980. In recent years Emerson has been active as a multitalented solo artist. He plays conventional six-string guitar, ukulele and bass in addition to acoustic steel guitar. He uses all of them here.

Emerson explains in the liner notes that he wanted to blend the Hawaiian traditions of steel guitar and slack key with similar traditions found on the mainland. From there he used his imagination. These are all songs with Christian themes, and some are classic spirituals, but he doesn’t play all of them as church music. Emerson gives “Joshua Fit the Battle at Jericho” a particularly thorough makeover into something closer to the acoustic jazz of the 1920s. An exquisite arrangement of “Amazing Grace” played on a single brass-bodied resonator guitar is another gem in an inspired collection.

Emerson’s meticulously crafted arrangements of “Jesus on the Mainline” and “Down by the River- side” evoke memories of earlier times and of disparate cultures united by similar traditions and Christian faith.


John Berger, Honolulu Star Advertiser

Between Petty and Plant and next to Chesney in Vintage Guitar Magazine ~ February 2015 Issue

Emerson is as talented on acoustic guitar, Dobro, and Weissenborn as he is knowledgeable about Hawaiian music. Although he doesn't employ the latter this time out, he overdubs upright bass and uke to a repertoire of gospel tunes like "I'll Fly Away" and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." Superb playing and supreme tone from his vintage Nationals and Taylor 414ce.

Dan Forte ~ Vintage Guitar Magazine

Ken Emerson plays both Hawaiian Slack Key and lap steel guitar and switches easily between them during his performance, laying his guitar on his lap and picking up a steel bar for an instrumental interlude. This requires a special finesse and light touch because the slack key guitar has lower action than a dedicated lap steel guitar.

He has developed his unique style through many musical genres. He has played his special blend of Blues/Jazz Hawaiian guitar for 40 years. Born into a musical family, Emerson grew up with his fathers’ extensive record collection of jazz, swing, Hawaiian and world music styles.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Emerson played the folk and blues songs of the early ‘60s, learning right hand fingerstyle techniques that led to his development as a fingerstyle picker.

With the explosion of the San Francisco sound of the mid- later ‘60’s Ken also immersed himself into rock and electric blues styles. He was particularly drawn to bottleneck and slide guitar.

In 1968 Ken’s family moved to Hawaii. Absorbing the Hawaiian culture, Ken began studying Hawaiian language and music emulating the players of the 1920’s and ‘30s era by listening to vintage Hawaiian 78 rpm records, zeroing in on the jazz and blues styles of Sol Ho’opi’i and Sol K. Bright.

Soon Emerson was playing alongside such legendary performers as Gabby Pahinui, Genoa Keawe, Raymond Kane, and Moe Keale.

Dividing his time between Kaua’i and San Francisco, Ken plays many Hawaiian venues and festivals and frequently tours the east coast of the United States as well as Europe and Asia.


HOCD2075 - Ken Emerson - Sacred Slack & Steel

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