In the press: December 9, 2013
CD Review

Composer/guitarist Jim “Kimo” West is best known for his work with "Weird Al" Yankovic – he’s played on all of his albums since 1984 – but on his own his vision has taken a radically different path. Separated from Yankovic’s hilarious parodies, West explores less commercial terrain. Fascinated by slack-key guitar, Kimo has released several albums in the genre, and the latest, Ki Ho'alu Christmastime, is another fingerstyle jewel. Kimo has mastered slack-key guitar to the point where he can revamp Yuletide classics as if they were originally written that way.

For those burned out on hearing the same Christmas tunes every year, West has provided a radiant alternative. "Jingle Bell Rock" is suitably upbeat but magical. West has revived the sense of wonder which once fueled the track, covered enough times to make anyone gag. Given the slack-key guitar treatment, it sounds fresh and alive. “Sleigh Ride” swings from a spellbinding web of instrumental wizardry. "Away in a Manger" is turned into a fragile lullaby. One can imagine the snowflakes gradually falling in the stunningly beautiful "The Christmas Song." West’s playing throughout the CD is enchanting and atmospheric, capturing the wintry beauty of the holiday like few have done in the last couple of decades. December 1, 2011
CD Review

"Weird Al" Yankovic guitarist Jim Kimo West pays homage to Hawaii with sublime slack-key instrumentals

As the longtime guitarist for Grammy-winning satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic, Jim Kimo West has heard a lifetime of good-natured laughter. However, West's own discography is light years apart from Yankovic's inventive and often hilarious pop-music parodies. In fact, West's latest solo record, Na Lani O Maui - Maui Skies, is even miles away from the mainland as he pays homage to the awe-inspiring beauty of Hawaii.

But West's decision to beam the spotlight on Hawaii is not for superficial reasons; this isn't some tourist's postcard although his surface affection for the tropical utopia is clearly evident. There is a deeper context here, one that is rooted in West's musical style of choice. West is a lifelong student of the fingerstyle technique of slack-key guitar, which actually originated in Hawaii. In the late 19th century, Mexican cowboys left guitars to Hawaiian natives along with some pieces of instruction; once they were gone, those rookie guitarists began experimenting with the instrument, creating a new genre of music in the process.

West's knowledge of slack-key guitar is vividly expressed in both his keen performances of covers as well as his own dynamite songwriting. West's version of Sonny Cunha's “Hula Blues" is what you'd expect a Hawaiian-themed track to sound like, brimming with a sunny, playful groove. “Maui Skies," a West original, is as evocative as its title promises; the liquid flow of West's guitar achieves that perfect balance of caressing the ears while awakening the mind to pictures of blankets of clouds hovering over a bed of blue ocean.

That West is able to produce music as sublime and picturesque as this while contributing to Yankovic's funny send-ups reveals a versatile and impeccable artist who awaits discovery.

Honolulu Pulse November 24, 2011
CD Review

"Na Lani O Maui - Maui Skies"

Slack-key guitarist James Kimo West honors tradition while also doing his part to perpetuate it with this collection of 15 instrumentals. Eight are Hawaiian standards, six are originals and one is a pop hit from the ’40s reworked as slack key.

Tunings are the foundation of slack key and no slack-key album is complete without them. West includes the tunings he used and also lists the changes he made in the basic tunings on individual songs.

"Hula Blues" has a bright and cheery mood that feels faithful to the era that produced it (Sonny Cunha and Johnny Noble wrote it in 1920). On "How’d Ya Do" he pays homage to slack-key icon Leland "Atta" Isaacs while putting his own spin on it. "Pua Lili Lehua" becomes a third highlight as West’s playing brings forth the beauty of the melody and the textures of slack-key tunings.

"Chattanooga Choo Choo," renamed "Waimanalo Choo Choo" but identified in the credits as the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren hit of 1941, works surprising well as West takes slack key out of its original context. "All Jam Up," one of West’s originals, is a zesty up-tempo number inspired by "freeway travel" in L.A.; it is another fine showcase for his strumming and picking.

- John Berger November, 2011
CD Review

"Weird Al" Yankovic guitarist Jim Kimo West releases immaculate collection of slack-key guitar instrumentals

The latest album from guitarist Jim Kimo West, Na Lani O Maui - Maui Skies, is a love letter. However, West's pen is his guitar, and they speak a language that only the imagination is able to interpret. An immaculate collection of slack-key guitar instrumentals, Na Lani O Maui - Maui Skies works not only as a homage to its country of origin but as a breathtaking introduction to the genre.

The fingerstyle technique of slack-key guitar has its roots in Hawaii, shortly after Mexican cowboys offered guitars to the natives and taught them how to the play the instrument. Once they departed, the Hawaiians began to fashion their own way with it. West captures both the history of the genre as well as his own mesmerizing take on it, effortlessly blending covers of timeless classics with his spellbindingly beautiful originals.

On the opening cut, "Two Paniolos," West weaves a web of crystalline prettiness; his sparkling, calming acoustic guitars create feelings of tranquility as well as transcendent bliss. West paints images of tropical paradise so vividly that one can almost feel the hot sand and the blistering kiss of the summer sun. "Holoholo Hana Bay" unveils layers of crisply played guitars; they build up into a sweltering jam. The dreamy atmospherics of "Hi'ilawe" is awash with intoxicating romanticism.

Best known for his work with "Weird Al" Yankovic, West is a highly impressive talent on his own. His mastery of slack-key guitar, as prominently displayed on this record, is not just fueled by technical precision but also depth of emotion. For example, "Maui Skies" is poetry set to music; it is bursting alive with the constant evolution and vibrant colors of nature, its soothing textures caressing the heart and lighting fire to the soul.

Honolulu Advertiser November 12, 2008
CD Review

"Kimo's Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas"

Watch for more Christmas CDs. James Kimo West's "Kimo's Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas" features classics and a new tune, and boasts a stunning hand-colored block-print cover image by Caren Ke'ala Loebel-Fried, who illustrated the just-out "Naupaka" book by the late Auntie Nona Beamer, which features Hawaiian translations by Kaliko Beamer-Trapp and music by Keola Beamer. A volume suitable for all seasons.

- Wayne Harada

Honolulu Star Bulletin November 7, 2008
CD Review

"Kimo's Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas" by James "Kimo" West; Westernmost Records

The soothing sound of slack-key guitar is perfect for Christmas music -- beautiful in and of itself, and as an antidote to the seasonal stress. James "Kimo" West makes a welcome contribution to the short list of slack-key Christmas albums with this collection of 11 holiday standards and a single original, "Mauna Kea Sleigh Ride."

West would have added value to the album by including information on the slack-key tunings he uses, but anyone interested only in mellow background music for Christmas listening need look no further. Fans of the genre will enjoy his work and others might be intrigued enough to seek out more information on it.

- John Berger

Honolulu Star Bulletin April 11, 2008
CD Review

"Livin's EZ: The Hawaiian Tribute to Sublime" by James "Kimo" West; Westernmost Records

Steel guitar fans are the most likely audience for this second "tribute album" by producer/arranger James "Kimo" West and steel guitarist Greg Leisz. That's not taking anything away from West's work on an assortment of string instruments and Hawaiian percussion, or the contributions of Lee Ann Harris (percussion) and Larry Antonio (acoustic bass).

However, steel guitar is heard less often then the other instrumens and using it on say, "Garden Grove" and "Get Ready," is a new idea.

West brings the same imagination to the task of reworking Sublime's music that he did with the Eagles tribute album last summer. This one is a greater stretch, but he succeeds once again in taking melodies from an unlikely source and placing them in a Hawaiian context.

As with his Eagles album, this is beautiful background music in which the interplay between the various instruments merits attentive listening.

- John Berger

Honolulu Advertiser December 14, 2007
CD Review

"Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: Kimo-Style" by James "Kimo" West; Westernmost Records

Genre: Ki ho'alu (slack-key guitar).

Distinguishing notes: James "Kimo" West composed eight of the 13 tracks here, and he no longer needs an introduction: He is a California-based composer-musician very much at home with his originals as well as interpretations of beloved Island classics.

His creations reflect the Island experience, with the titles telling the tale — "Goin' Upcountry," "Hana Highway Slack Key," "Ke Kai Malie," "Lullaby for My Tutu." East meets West on "Itoshi No Kimi Ni," a West original composed for his sweetheart, with nuances and seasonings from Japan that blend very gently and effectively in the Hawaiian-Japanese soundscape.

Of the covers, "Akaka Falls" and "Ku'u Lei 'Awapuhi" are particularly prolific, and like others who put their slack-key imprint on non-Hawaiian entities, West's "Imagine" (the John Lennon fave) is both nostalgic and relevant — a means to expand the ki ho'alu appeal and popularity beyond the customary Hawaiian perimeters.

Our take: I've said it once and I'll say it again: Go West and you'll find slack-key paradise. In this outing, appealing sound-adventures for your soul.

- Wayne Harada

Honolulu Advertiser April 2, 2006
CD Review

"Slack Key West"

Though Mainland-based, Jim "Kimo" West has had a place for Hawai'i in his heart since his first visit in the mid-1980s. This collection of Island-inspired originals utilizes West's tunings that resulted in his indoctrination to the slack-key genre after he listened to some of the Island greats. The nahenahe flavors he concocts, on a range of Hawai'i-linked titles, clearly suggest he has a flow and fondness for the 'aina. "Kohala No," "Popoke Lolo," "The Sands of Polihale" and "Hana Hou Down" are examples of his creativity and craft; through his roots may be elsewhere, West's clean, crisp and canny interpretations surely should earn him respect and admiration.

The outlook: Yet another ki-ho'alu treasure.

Our take: Go West and you'll find slack-key paradise.

- Wayne Harada

Wood and Steel Magazine February, 2006
CD Review

".....his instrumentals all take place in an assortment of lush, open tropical tunings. The soothing collection of 11 originals and three well-chosen covers is not only reminiscent of slack key masters Gabby Pahinui and Ledward Kaapana, but also harkens back to the 80's Windham Hill sounds of Will Ackerman and Alex DeGrassi."
by Andy Wang

"Slack Key West" is Jim's second slack key release and features 11 original instrumentals in addition to Beyond the Reef, Maria Elena, and Lei Aloha. 14 songs, 8 different tunings, Jim demonstrates skill, variety and a truly "nahenahe" touch. Retaining the essence of traditional slack key, Jim plays in a style that is uniquely his own. This album will indeed stand on its own in any "slackers" music collection.

Honolulu Star Bulletin 3/26/99
"Island Mele" by Jon Berger

Jim West introduces himself with a collection of slack key melodies inspired by life on the Hana Coast of Maui.The stories behind his compositions are shared in the liner notes. Two traditional melodies,one Hawaiian,the other Fijian,add other facets to West's tranquil musical scrapbook.

Students of slack key will appreciate West's inclusion of the tunings and variations he uses. He believes two are original.

Honolulu Advertiser 2/27/99
"Island Sounds" by Wayne Harada

Words and Music
"Slack-Key sunsets and shadings"

"Coconut Hat" by Jim West
Westernmost Records WMR-30001-2

Jim West is a Los Angeles musician who happily found his way to Hana. In that tranquil, isolated Maui community, he discovered the heart of Hawai'i and it's ki ho 'alu (slack key guitar) stylings. His debut CD is the result of this blessed romance.

Most of the selections convey a mellow manner reflective of the unassuming Hana lifestyle. And the wonderful thing about any ki ho 'alu tune is much it communicates, despite the lack of lyrics. "Ulupalakua Sunset", for example, paints a picture of forthcoming twilight from upcountry-with subtleties like gentle wind, rustling branches and take-off-the -shoes informality.

"Coconut Hat", the title cut, suggests a hat-maker weaving his fronds, then selling his wares to tourists-or perhaps a sunny day with the head shielded from the sun.

"Holoholo Helen Style" depicts a spunky auntie on her merry way-at least in his nimble guitar fingerings. West says his influences were the likes of Gabby Pahinui, the Sunday Manoa, and the Sons of Hawaii-pioneers,indeed-and his embrace of slack key is reassuring evidence of its impact among those who play and perpetuate Island music.

For fellow slackers, West provides tuning notes in his liner; for the rest of us, a quick listen is a satisfying lesson in the art of strumming with slack tunings. A tip of my coconut to West.

Fellow musicians:

"Jim and I have been friends for.....well, so many years it doesn't bear thinking about. I've always admired his rock and pop guitar playing not to mention his twisted passion for tenor banjo. However, it was fairly recently that I learned of his love for Hawaiian music and particularly slack key guitar. When I first heard Jim had done the Coconut Hat album I wondered how legit he was going to be at the genre. I should never have doubted him for a minute, Jim plays and writes this stuff like a real kamaaina, an old timer. His touch, tone and tunings are so native that I now find it difficult to think of him as a rock guitar player anymore.

Slack Key West, Jim's latest album, is a record that is beautifully performed, written and recorded and shows Jim expanding the role of slack key guitar playing. It's been said often that there are really only two kinds of music; good and bad. Jim West makes good music."

Richard Bennett, November, 2005 (

"You're playing is sweet and soulful, smooth and lustrous, clean and well articulated; your touch is musical and sounds effortless and graceful... Unforced, instinctual, natural and well controlled. Really great stuff.

It is so refreshing to hear some original compositions that are unique, well crafted and sincere and from the heart... Varied and rich! I love all the tunes and have a hard time picking favorites, but maybe Hawaiian Heart and White Rain and Sands of Polihale..."

Kapono Beamer, November, 2005 (

CD reviews from

  "One of the best slack key players on the planet! I live in Hawaii, play slack key guitar myself and am very familiar with the music of all the well known players in the islands. I had the good fortune of meeting Kimo West in person during a photo shoot on Kauai and he sent me a copy of "Slack Key West". From the first track and with every single track on the cd - I was blown away with delight and surprise - Kimo West is one of the best of the best and deserves to be widely known and recognized in the world of slack key guitar. His guitar playing has fluidity, style, humor and tenderness that is uniquely his own. Each piece on this album (many of them are original compositions) is a gem. Buy this album - spread the word - this player is the real deal."

"This CD instantly transports the listener to a tropical island paradise, with barely a hint of hula girls or tourist stuff. I already knew that Jim could make a guitar sound like any musical group or genre, but this is something else again. Just heavenly. I think the music could inspire some Hawaiian travel on my part -- if the islands are as serene as Jim's music, I need to go there soon."

"It is one of the most played cds in my collection of over 160. I and it very relaxing and never tire of listening to it."

"Jim's lacey and beautiful guitar playing is the elixir required to tame the savage beast after anyone's hectic work day. Relieves tension! Revitalizes the heart and mind! Energizes your aching limbs! Let Dr. West weave his magic spell and bring you to the islands of Hawaii."

"This is one of the most beautiful albums I have. It is so relaxing after a stressful day...just gets the knots right out of my soul! I highly recommend this CD to anyone who cherishes great music."

"Think of Leo Kotke, Ry Cooder and John Fahey all rolled up into one guy. Ship him off to Hawaii for a gentle bake in the sun and surf... feed him tropical fruit drinks, invite him to luaus, let him enjoy the beauty of God's islands. You do this, and "Coconut Hat" is what you'll get back. I loved this recording... was immediately transported from the mainland back to the islands with their relaxed sense of time and nature, friendly people and a comfortable, casual lifestyle that suits me just fine."

"The talent and feeling Jim puts into his music makes the slow, relaxing sounds of Cereus just as exciting to listen to as the bright, intricate sounds of Na Manu Iki. All I can say to Jim West is, mahalo nui loa!"

"Coconut Hat is absolutely one of my favorite cd's. Jim West is an amazing guitar player and the music on this album transforms my surroundings every time I hear it."

"Living in a big noisy city this CD keeps me mellow. Jim finds a way with his music to make you feel like your in the islands. Each melody has a story of it's own and Jim plays so you feel it. Please keep playing!"