Hawaiian Specialty: Pahinui on Ry

Because of his deep respect and affection for a wide variety of ethnic music, Ry Cooder has developed one of the most identifiable guitar styles extant. Nobody comes close to his list of influences.

One of the most prominent on that list is Gabby Pahinui, a Hawaiian master of the “slackkey” guitar, a tuned-down style of slide that to mainland ears sounds both exotic and vaguely familiar because of tourist exposure to slack-key in mostly watered-down form. Having played with Pahinui on various projects (The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band in 1975, and Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music in 1976) before Pahinui died, in 1978, Cooder felt a special obligation to help keep native Hawaiian music alive.

When Gabby’s widow told her three sons, Bla, Martin, and Cyril, that it was time to record again, Cooder jumped at the chance to organize, coproduce, and play. The resulting album. The Pahinui Bros. (Private Music), is one of the strangest hybrids around: country western, doo wop, rock and roll, reggae, and, of course, the defining slack-key nui5 guitar. The cover of John

Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” may get the most radio attention, but it’s the native music that is the most affecting. The Pahinuis sing wonderfully, hitting the happiness center of your brain with every tune. It’s Cooder’s strongest work in years, with virtuoso David Lindley also on guitar and Jim Keltner on drums. —C.M.Y.