Hawaiian Twang

Few musical sounds evoke a place as immediately as the shimmering cry of a steel guitar. Hula Blues traces the roots of country's pedal steel, bluegrass' dobro, and the slide guitar of the blues back to the Hawaiian steel guitar, which was popularized in the United States in the first two decades of the 20th century. Scratchy record sounds add to this charming trip back in time.

Hula Blues takes its title from the opening song, one of five by Sol Hoopii. One of the most important Hawaiian steel players, Hoopii migrated to the United States in 1919, becoming a popular club act and popping up in feel-good flicks such as "Waikiki Weddings." He is a widely cited influence on jazz musicians and especially country pedal steel players.

Playing a Martin Hawaiian guitar on the title tune and a Rickenbacker electric guitar on "Farewell Blues" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Hawaiian March," his playing is rhythmic and fun, exploiting the instrument to sometimes-comic effect — on "Train Song," he uses it to emulate a whistle.

In contrast, Portuguese guitarist Frank Ferera's playing on the sweetly melancholy "Melani Anu Ka Makani" is more formally melodic and closer to what we now associate with a classic country sound. Lemuel Turner's "Jake Bottle Blues" (RealAudio excerpt), sounding like authentic Delta blues, likewise uses the steel guitar to express sad emotions. The Biltmore Orchestra's snappy rendition of "Kaui Kahio" (RealAudio excerpt) and Pat Patterson and His Champion Rep Riders' antic "The Cat's Whiskers" feels closer to Western swing.