JIM "KIMO" WEST
Following the release of his 2021 Grammy-winning More Guitar Stories, and its follow up Ka Honua Maluhia (Peaceful World), Hawaii’s favorite Haole guitar hero Jim "Kimo" West returns to the music world again with an all-new album of guitar-centric tracks called Of Wood And Spirit, subtitled American Guitar Stories. The third album in Kimo’s Guitar Stories series, the 2023 release Of Wood And Spirit finds the guitarist / composer broadening his musical palette with a Trip-tik array of all-original, guitar-centric sounds that blends a wealth of instrumental American music influences. While Kimo’s Slack-key guitar is still on the album, the Hawaiian guitar influences are somewhat subdued, with the album instead accenting sound styles from various geographical locations in the continental United States.
“Ghost Town Waltz” evokes a lonely kind of ethereal vibe and, as Kimo points out in the album liner notes, “The American West is known for its many ghost towns”. “One Sierra Morning” sends a sonic postcard from Highway 395 in the vicinity of California’s Eastern Sierra mountains. With its influences from Haiti, France and Africa, “Under The Voodoo” winds up images of the hot and humid city of New Orleans. “Wind In The Canyon” boasts effects from American Indian music, while the banjo groove of “A Griot In Memphis” summons up African Griot music by way of the American south and much more.
“Circle Of Friends” is dedicated to American music historian Dave “Fess” Bourne, while “Emryn’s Song" was penned by Kimo for the daughter of his Hawaiian friends. “When Water Dreams” is inspired by what happens when water turns to snow, with each snowflake forming a different crystal pattern, while the track 9 album-closer, “A Love That Forgives” remembers a time to forgive no matter what the horrible committed crime was.
Supporting Kimo’s multilayered performances on acoustic slack key and electric guitars, Weissenborn guitar, mandola, finger cymbals, acoustic, baritone and soprano guitars, Moog guitar, synth pads, orchestration, six string banjo, prepared guitar, Martin tenor guitar, electric baritone guitar and keyboards, on Of Wood And Spirit Kimo teams up with top players including Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Jimmy Johnson (fretless bass), Gabe Witcher (violin), MB Gordy (percussion), Michael Manring (fretless bass), Ken Emerson (lap steel), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Simone Vitucci (cello), Dan Lutz (upright bass), Ron Korb (native flute), Mike Witcher (dobro), David Naiditch (chromatic harmonica) and Robert “Bobomatic” West (blues harmonica).
As noted before, Of Wood And Spirit does indeed differ somewhat sound-wise from the Hawaiian instrumental sound of Kimo’s previous albums, including his most recent releases, reflecting a more essential Americana sound that blends in a number of home-grown domestic influences. A tasty addition to the artist's impressive repertoire of albums, start to finish the nine-track, 38-minute album is unmistakable in its sound and if anything; the broad diversity of the tracks on Of Wood And Spirit charts a fresh course for Jim “Kimo” West, one that uncovers innovative layers of unexpected musical inspirations that longtime fans will find equally captivating.
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: Does Of Wood And Spirit represent a new kind of musical direction for you coming after Peaceful World in 2021 and also More Guitar Stories in 2020? Is there less of a focus on the Hawaiian slack key guitar sound you’re best known for and more of an accent on Americana on Of Wood And Spirit?
Jim Kimo West: Yes, stylistically this album is not very “Hawaiian” but I did use a lot of slack key tunings and techniques to create these pieces. I like to think that the beautiful soul and spirit of Hawaiian slack key carries over to whatever I do!
mwe3: How would you describe the chemistry of the players you recorded with for the Of Wood And Spirit sessions? You’ve worked with a number of these musicians before.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, I’ve previously worked with many of the players on this record; Jimmy Johnson, Greg Leisz, MB Gordy for example. There is something to be said for working with people who “get” what you do and bring their best to the project.
There are also some folks who I had not worked with before like, Michael Manring and Gabe Witcher who are so amazing. I really hope I’ll be working with them again!
mwe3: “Ghost Town Waltz” kicks off Of Wood And Spirit and it sets the tone perfectly. What part of the American West inspired the sentiment of “Ghost Town Waltz”?
Jim Kimo West: I live in California and have traveled extensively throughout the state. I’ve driven through many of these old deserted towns before. Some are very old and some gave up the ghost as recently as the 1970’s. This particular song started as a guitar idea which I recorded first.
mwe3: Was the entire album done remotely still or did you play in the studio with the musicians, at least on the tracks that have additional musicians?
mwe3: “One Sierra Morning” continues with the West Coast themes. What part of the Eastern Sierras do you like best? Take us into your mindset when you wrote “One Sierra Morning”.
Jim Kimo West: I’ve spent time in Mammoth and the Yosemite area and can only imagine what John Muir felt back in the day. There is something about the pristine quality of the air-everything is so clear and crisp and the mountains are so majestic. It is truly a magical part of California!
mwe3: “Under The Voodoo” takes us deep into America’s southland, specifically to New Orleans. Have you played live concerts in New Orleans? The track is a good way to express your interest in the melting pot of that area. Also I see the Ken Emerson joins you on resonator slide and electric lap steel on “Under The Voodoo” and also tell us about the harmonica of Robert “Bobomatic” West on that track. Is Robert related to you?
Jim Kimo West: I’ve performed in New Orleans many times and have always found myself immersed in the culture and its unique history. Ken is a master of acoustic and electric lap steel and has also spent a lot of time there so it was just natural. He totally got the vibe and did a great job!
Robert “Bobomatic” West is indeed my brother. He’s not a professional musician but took up harmonica right around the time I started playing guitar. I actually recorded his part in Hana, Maui where he lives. I hung the microphone from the ceiling fan and let him do his thing!
mwe3: Are you going to record again in the future with Ken Emerson and what became of the label you and Ken recorded the Aloha Radio Hawaii album for?
Jim Kimo West: I hope to do another album with Ken at some point. We had a great time recording Aloha Radio Hawaii at the old A&M studios in Hollywood where many iconic records were done, most of Joni Mitchell’s for example. Dave Way produced and recorded the album in Dolby Atmos for the label that is based in China. They do a lot of eclectic projects like this one.
mwe3: Also on “Under The Voodoo” you play Moog guitar. You’ve played Moog guitar on several of your other albums and you’ve described it as “a cool electromagnetic guitar, not a synth at all but more like a polyphonic eBow.” It’s a cool track, coupled with the violin of Gabe Witcher and Robert’s harmonica it’s very voodoo influenced.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, the Moog guitar has two electromagnetic pickups in addition to regular pickups. It creates a haunting sound with a lot of natural variation that I think lends to the “voodoo vibe”. I use it in place of “synth pads” from a synthesizer. I like to keep my albums all-acoustic.
mwe3: “Wind In The Canyon” is another mysterious sounding track that has got a great mix of instrumentation including Ron Korb’s native flute and the pedal steel of Greg Leisz as well as Michael Manring’s prominent fretless bass. Is there American Indian vibe on “Wind In The Canyon”? The native flute is good at creating that vibe.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, this track was inspired by an old Apache legend about two lovers separated by great distance. The sound of his flute echoing through the canyon gave her both longing and hope. I tried to capture this feeling and the native flute played by Ron Korb definitely captures the essence of the story.
mwe3: Have you played banjo before? Is “A Griot In Memphis” the first time you recorded with banjo? Being that you’re playing all the instruments on “A Griot In Memphis” what was your approach in layering the tracks? What part was recorded first? It’s pretty fascinating sounding and you can also hear the Moog guitar tracks.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, I’ve played banjo over the years but mostly on Weird Al’s Polka medleys… lol. I used a minor tuning to evoke more of a West African sound as banjo has its roots there. I also used a “prepared guitar” to mimic the sound of the Balafon, another instrument favored by the Griot clans. I started with the banjo part and added parts to flesh it out, including the Moog guitar.
mwe3: Does “Circle Of Friends” take you back to Hawaiian music? Tell us something about Dave “Fess” Bourne and why you dedicated the track to him? How did you meet Dave and is he still alive?
Jim Kimo West: Yes, this track has a bit more of a slack key feel, but transposed to an Irish / Celtic song form of sorts. Dave Bourne was a good friend and musicologist who knew everything about American music. I met him at a slack key festival, as he was interested in learning more about it.
Unfortunately, he passed a few years ago but he will be remembered for the fun jam sessions he organized with so many great players, many of which were recorded.
mwe3: It’s interesting that you feature the harmonica again on “Circle Of Friends”, but by a different player! It’s amazing how well the chromatic harmonica intertwines perfected with the fiddle. The fiddle sets the right tone for the Americana vibe you’re going for on this album.
Jim Kimo West: Gabe Witcher played the fiddle on this track. He has had a long tenure with the Punch Brothers and Chris Thile and is a real proponent of modern Americana. I had met David Naiditch years ago at a backyard party and had to have him play chromatic harmonica on this track!
mwe3: It’s quite interesting how playing at a birthday party yielded “Emryn’s Song”. Tell us about working with the Wichter brothers, Gabe and Mike on this track. The fiddle and dobro add a lot to this track.
Jim Kimo West: I came up with this melody while playing for some friends’ daughter’s first birthday party. It was late and I was out of ideas so I just started improvising, but then noticed that people were listening and digging it! After Gabe added his fiddle he suggested his brother Mike for the dobro part. They had a family band for years and have a natural chemistry!
mwe3: How did “When Water Dreams” evolve and take shape? Is it Hawaiian influenced? I was thinking there is a Celtic connection too and it’s certainly among the most introspective tracks you’ve done. You mentioned the snowflake connection to keep the whole thing very original, which this track certainly is. Tell us about overdubbing the Slack key guitar with the Martin tenor guitar.
Jim Kimo West: I had been experimenting with this tuning and when I came up with this idea, I felt it might be a good fit for the album. It has a delicate feel but also some Americana vibes too.
I visualized pristine fields of snow while working on it, like what I’ve seen in Alaska and thought about how amazing it is that it’s billions of completely unique snowflakes!
It’s basically a solo guitar piece but I added a 1950’s Martin tenor guitar which adds a sweet Americana vibe to the track.
mwe3: The album closes with “A Love That Forgets” which remembers a church bombing in Alabama in 1963. It’s another solo track played on your electric baritone guitar. How did you arrive with that remembrance of that domestic terrorism incident from 60 years ago.
Jim Kimo West: I had been reading Songs of America by John Meachum and Tim McGraw. This is one of those stories that illustrated the birth of a song and it this case, it birthed another song! It was such a touching story and great lesson and I felt compelled to express it somehow.
mwe3: Do you ever feel frustrated by all the violence in the world?
Jim Kimo West: We do indeed live in a violent world but we do what we can do every day to spread love and good will!
Jim Kimo West: I have a few projects in the works, one being a new album with Joss Jaffe, a traditional slack key album and possibly a West African guitar record. Oh and a few other things!
Photo 1: With my custom mango wood guitar, made by Todd Johnson