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Four Hands Sweet and Hot - Cyril Pahinui and Bob Brozman
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February 5, 1999

Two Streams of Island Guitar


There are two distinct streams of Hawaiian guitar - slack key and steel. Played fingerstyle on a flat-top in a variety of dropped tunings, slack key (ki ho'alu) evolved from music played by Hawaiian cowboys in the early 1800s. Hawaiian steel - the better known of the two musics - is played with a bar on acoustic or electric lap guitars. Closely associated with hula dancing, the quivering sounds of Hawaiian steel have historically represented the commercial side of island guitar. While electric steel players developed their sounds in hotel bars and dance halls, acoustic slack-key pickers evolved their tunes in back-porch gatherings. For the most part, these two styles have remained separate. But that's changing: FOUR HANDS SWEET & HOT (the third album in a series of slack-key and steel duets from Dancing Cat Records) features Cyril Pahinui - son of slack-key legend Gabby Pahinui - on chiming, fingerpicked 12-string, and Bob Brozman on swooping, acoustic lap steel. Consisting primarily of standards, Four Hands Sweet & Hot makes a superb introduction to the twin flavors of Hawaiian guitar. Yet, by merging these classic sounds, Pahinui and Brozman are helping to create something new. Pahinui's changing, tinkling 12-string makes a perfect foil for Brozman's moaning steel, and the two players pass the melody and accompaniment back and forth so smoothly that their instruments often blend into one 18-sting voice. Whether revisiting traditional ballads such as "Lei No Ka'iulani" or pumping through uptempo originals, Pahinui and Brozman reveal total command of their guitars. While thumbing syncopated bass lines, Pahinui plucks ringing melodies with such delicacy that it's easy to forget he's playing the Mack truck of fretted instruments. And Brozman pushes the steel's melodic and timbral boundaries by seamlessly integrating shimmering harmonics, octave lines, and palm-muted bass riffs with lots of slanted-bar intervals. The record captures both beautiful playing and good vibes - a real treat.

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