Ken Emerson - Slack & Steel
Slack & Steel
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Traditional Hawaiian Slack-Key & Steel Guitar

Acoustic & Electric Steel guitar with Slack Key guitar at its BEST from Ken Emerson, one of the world's most highly regarded traditional Hawaiian slack-key and steel guitarists living today. Emerson's playing is amazing, his style reflecting the Hawaiian guitar's grassroots origins of over a century ago. This disc resurrects the traditions of vintage Hawaiian music tapping into classic jazz and blues influences along the way. Emerson's first solo album of instrumental music including five rare outtakes from the original sessions.

An excellent addition to any guitarist's collection, this CD features Ken Emerson on slack key, acoustic and electric lap steel, and various other guitars. Ken is a disciple of Gabby Pahinui, and has picked up the nuances of Sol Ho'opi'i's playing while adding his own stylings. The result is both relaxing and invigorating, well worth seeking out.   

Brads Page of Steel

Ken Emerson

Emerson writes pieces that update the classic sounds of Hawaiian Slack Key guitar. His unaccompanied songs have an open, relaxing quality to them, moving forward in a gentle rhythm.

Jessy Terry, Rolling Stone Magazine

Rolling Stone

 Emerson immerses style and soul into slack-key and steel guitar, and what a soothing excursion this is.

Wayne Harada, Honolulu Advertiser

This new CD is a reissue of an album originally recorded by Ken Emerson in 1997 — a beautifully crafted solo project that helped rekindle interest here in the sound of acoustic steel guitar and other antique instruments.

Reissued by Emerson and producer Michael Cord, the album includes five additional archival tracks.

Emerson is almost a one-man band. He plays slack-key guitar, acoustic and electric steel guitar, rhythm guitar and ukulele in various combinations. A second guitarist joins him on one track; an acoustic bassist plays on three. The diversity of the instruments makes the album especially interesting. The liner notes explain some of the more elaborate arrangements and make it possible to appreciate the distinct sounds of the different instruments and Emerson’s approach to playing them.

Emerson’s career traces back to a memorable debut as the Emerson Brothers — Phil and Ken — and a winning spot on Ron "Whodaguy" Jacobs’ "Homegrown III" album in 1978. The brothers’ original song "Kai Hanupanupa," stood out for its nostalgic Hawaiian/hapa-haole sound.

Phil and Ken Emerson built on their promising debut with their work as Moe Keale’s studio sidemen on his precedent-setting "South Sea Island Magic" album in 1980. While Nohelani Cypriano had reworked the hapa-haole classic as polished Hawaiian disco, Keale and the Emersons played the song as it might have sounded if written a decade or two earlier when guitars and steel guitars were still acoustic instruments.

The Emersons’ affiliation with Keale turned out to be short-lived, but Ken Emerson continued on as a solo artist who often played antique acoustic instruments — some with wooden bodies, others metal, some with the cones or resonators that were used to amplify the sound of guitars and steel guitars before the first electric instruments were invented.

"Slack & Steel" was originally recorded and produced by John Keoni Fujitani for his local indie label, Liko Records. Fujitani didn’t release many albums on the Liko label, but most of those he did were significant. This was one of the label’s best — and the added tracks make it even better.

John Berger, Honolulu Star Advertiser

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.


Ken Emerson Tray Card
HOCD2020 Ken Emerson Slack & Steel Acoustic & Electric Steel Guitar with Slack Key

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