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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

CD Reviews

SLACK KEY ‘OHANA: Hawaiian Cowboy

by Wayne RikerApril 2024

Hawaiian Cowboy is the third album from Slack Key ‘Ohana, fronted by the songwriting team of Kamaka Mullen and Brian Witkin. The 13 tracks include nine original tunes in addition to a quartet of Hawaiian standards. The album has an eclectic islands and country music vibe intersecting throughout the tracks, with the distinctive sound of steel guitars from Witkin and Rand Anderson, which permeates both styles, although the musical highlight throughout are the mellifluous lead vocals and vocal harmonies, led by Mullen and a handful of guest vocalists.

The pop-flavored opening track, “One More Day,” features Mullen on lead vocals amid the dancing guitar figures from Witkin’s acoustic guitar and the ukulele accompaniment from Brittni Paiva, followed by “Ku’u Lei Nani Mai ‘Oe,” featuring a lovely vocal duet from the Godoy sisters, Alana and Alyssa.

The title track, “Hawaiian Cowboy,” a two-steppin’ goodie, calls in guest vocalist, Billy F. Gibbons and guitarist George Kahumoku Jr., as if Ricky Nelson and James Burton had just entered the studio with Gibbons adding a nice touch with a cool talking blues section, à la Woody Guthrie. “Kicking rocks and feeling down, doesn’t have anyone around, only has his guitar and his horse.”

The upbeat tune “Coming Home” brings in guest vocalist Kela Sako in a campy vocal duet with Brian Witkin, tastefully embellished with layers of high register steel licks.

Carol Witkin adds a big piece to the musical puzzle with her ukulele backup and vocal harmonies as noted in the ballad, “Nahenahe Ka Leo O Ka Wahine U’I,” and the ballad “Everything Is Alright,” which leads off with a powerful vocal a cappella chorus with the vocal text drenched amid silky smooth steel phrases.

The group is the real-deal islands music as noted in their authentic cover of the Ledward Kaapana classic, “I Kona,” and the traditional cover tunes “Waimanalo Blues,” “Aloha ‘Oe,” and “Hawa’i Aloha.”

Other highlights are the pleasant cascading secondary vocal harmonies on the happy-go-lucky tune, “Heading for the Country.” “Driving toward the sun, don’t know who’ll be there, but we’ll be having fun,” and the intricate vocal interplay on the track “Slack Key ‘Ohana,” a vocal arrangement the Beach Boys would be proud of. “The palm trees moving, the people grooving, the band begins to play.”

The album is a delightful listen that will make you feel as if you’re sitting on an island with a cool drink by your side or seated at your local honkytonk holding a beer in your hand, complemented by unobtrusive musical arrangements and soothing vocal melodies and harmonies.


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