Sonny Chillingworth

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Music for a Hawaiian Sunset

The guitar was brought to Hawaii in the 1830s by Spanish and Mexican cowboys. It quickly became part of the indigenous culture, and over time natives developed their own distinct way of playing it. In the local style known as "slack key" guitar, some strings are tuned lower than on a typical guitar. The bass parts are played with a lazy thumb while the harmony is finger-picked in stricter rhythm.

The masters of the slack key style—pioneers like Gabby Pahinui (see p. 572), Leonard Kwan, and Chillingworth—all retained some of the Spanish/Mexican influence, though in differing degrees. Chillingworth, the most worldly of them despite growing up in a rural area, can sound like a cowboy or a wandering singer of romantic love odes. He interprets age-old Hawaiian songs with a straightforward sincerity, and his vocals have a wistful aspect that's closer to a Spanish love song (or woebegone country ballad) than the music tourists associate with the islands. The title track of this posthumously released set, a version of the Brook Benton R&B hit, shows that he knew how to make his commanding baritone haunt a song.

Chillingworth's guitar playing, swift and assured yet the farthest thing from showboating, lifts his music from the realm of the pleasant into something approaching transcendence. Endlessly's instrumental songs can sometimes cast a contemplative New Age spell; he always approaches them with fastidious precision, transforming idle thoughts into flashes of serene Hawaiian soul.

Genre: World, Hawaii
Released: 1999, Windham Hill
Key Tracks: "Endlessly," "Keiki Slack Key," "Moana Chimes/ Pa'ahana"
Catalog Choice: Sonny Solo
Next Stop: Gabby Pahinui: The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band, Vol. 1
Book Pages: 165–166

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