Some might consider reviewing a disc of Hawaiian slide players as perhaps a bit off-center in a blues website but it's been well documented that early bluesmen, mainly practitioners of bottleneck guitar, were highly influenced by the surge of popular artists dedicated to Island music in the earlier part of the 20th century. Catfish delivers a big slice of delight with two-dozen tracks packed with amazing guitar skills in their continuing "Classic Slide Guitar" series. This is a fine companion to a couple of earlier bottleneck compilations (both highly rewarding), and while hardly a student of Hawaiian stylists, it's certainly plain as day with this release why researchers tend to lean toward key figures like Sol Hoopii, King Benny Nawahi, and others when discussing early slide blues players. The resemblance is uncanny, particularly when the above review discusses the talents of Casey Bill Weldon, a bluesman known as the Hawaiian Guitar Wizard.
King Benny Nawahi opens the set with "Honolulu Bound," a sizzling sample of lap artistry, while the whistle and clacking train track effects bring Son House to mind (House cut discs for the Library of Congress in 1941/42 and one track has the distinct sounds of a train rolling by during the recording process) and Nawahi is also featured on "Black Boy Blues," a beautiful instrumental, and "Tickling The Strings," another sizzler with plenty of slurs and buzzing passages that definitely hold interest. Sol Hoopii struts his stuff on "Farewell Blues" with precision slide and careening whizzes and a great assortment of percussive techniques that Delta masters like Bukka White might well have been hip to, while "Hula Blues" offers more delectable phrasing, but it's Hoopii's "Radio Blues" that stands out with its trolling pace and relaxed bottleneck hijinx. Sam Ku West's stunning "Wang Wang Blues" is particularly pleasing with its highly effective background figures and Hoopii's "Lady Be Good" hands in a soothing quality. Jim & Bob's "St. Louis Blues" will please even the most hardcore purists with its changing tempo (which leads one to think T-Bone Walker might well have been keen to this pair of Hawaiian players), "Stack O Lee Blues" by the King, Queen & Jack drops off more bewildering lap-style playing, and Fraanchini & Dettborn's "Palakiko Blues" is a superlative few minutes of guitar wrangling.
While these tracks offer the most interest to blues fans, the remainder of the CD is as beautiful as it is fun. The singing is spot-on and much of it in the Hawaiian dialect, which adds further interest, and there's no shortage of superb guitar work anywhere, since many of the cuts are instrumental only. Michael Messer, a UK bottleneck player and National guitar researcher with a wide-ranging list of influences, penned the highly interesting liner notes for this wonderful look at how these Hawaiian six-string technicians played key roles in the development of blues in the 1920's and 30's. While not an essential purchase for blues fans, Catfish's "Classic Slide Guitar Volume III: Acoustic Hawaiian Guitar Masters" is a textbook of bottleneck breakdowns. For more info on this set, head to www.catfishrecords.co.uk and look at their growing catalog of solid, budget-priced blues, jazz, country, and more. Hats off to Catfish for continuing the documentation of early blues and roots music.
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