The standard perception of Hawaiian music by non-islanders usually involves mental images of Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles” and playing a ukulele. But slack key guitar has been the islands’ signature musical tradition since the 1830s, when Spanish and Mexican cowboys showed up with both livestock and guitars. It’s a lilting, finger-picking acoustic style where open or “slack” key-tuned solo guitar (or a few guitars) are sometimes paired with vocals often sung in native Hawaiian.
Film director Alexander Payne fell in love with this gentle style as he was scouting locations for The Descendants, so it makes sense that this soundtrack is composed entirely of slack key, including classic performances by the genre’s finest players. Legends like Gabby Pahinui and Sol Hoopii are here, as are current day masters like Keola Beamer and Ozzie Kotani and gifted young gun Jeff Peterson. Nominally, this is a soundtrack, but it’s actually a first-rate introduction to the best this beautiful music has to offer.