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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 30, 2006

Lim handles solo turn on 'Artistry'

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Sonny Lim's debut solo ki ho'alu disc gets a Grammy nomination.

Advertiser library photo

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"Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim"

Sonny Lim


"Slack Key Dreams of the Ponomoe"

Kapono Beamer


"Sweet & Lovely"

Raiatea Helm


"Kï hö'alu — Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar"

Ledward Ka'apana


"Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1"

Various artists (producers Daniel Ho,

Paul Konwiser and Wayne Wong)

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'Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim'

Artist/label: Sonny Lim, 45, Palm RecordsCareer

Na Hoku Hanohano wins: Three, with The Lim Family

Attending Grammys: Yes, with wife, Donna, and mother, Mary Ann.

Wearing: Debating between a rented tuxedo or customdesigned suit. "I rented last year. But this year, everyone's trying to get me to dress up. I'd be happy in an aloha shirt."

Lei: 'Akulikuli and/or pua kenikeni. "My wife is thinking 'akulikuli because it's from Waimea, where we come from. The pua kenikeni would be from a tree in my mom's yard."

Where to display Grammy, if won: "I'd probably put it in my house, right over the fireplace. If I get this honor, I'll have to put it where everybody can see it when they walk in."

If there were six nominations: "Ka'eha Ke Aloha" by Sean Na'auao or "Welo" by Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole.

Next up: Continuing work on his mom's solo album; a new Lim Family album by year's end.

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Sometimes the thing you do best can seem the hardest thing in the world to pull off.

For Waimea-based ki ho'alu artist Sonny Lim, that would be playing guitar alone on his debut solo CD.

"I've always played with my family. ... And you get used to having this rhythm and timing," explained Lim, of his multiNa Hoku Hanohano award-winning work with Kohala's musically gifted Lim Family. "When you take all of that away, and you're in the sterile environment of a recording studio with no sound but you? I had to get used to that."

Producer Charles Michael Brotman, who took home the first Hawaiian music album Grammy last year for the compilation disc "Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2," was confident Lim could handle an entire CD of solo ki ho'alu. Still, he gave the initially doubtful Lim who rarely performed slack-key alone the option of backing out if the sessions weren't working.

They spent four months recording last spring and summer, with Lim increasingly enamored of the sweetly mellow traditional and contemporary instrumentals tracked at Brotman's Lava Tracks Recording Studio.

"Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim" is now the second Grammy-nominated disc Lim has played on.

At the Grammys last year: "We were actually far from the stage, so we had a long walk," said Lim, who accompanied Brotman to the podium to accept the Grammy for "Vol. 2." "We didn't expect to win. So it was a really exciting feeling. Real surreal."

Lim started checking out possible compositions for his first-ever solo disc as soon as the red carpet walks and Grammy parties were over last February. Recording began in April and continued between seven trips Lim took to Japan for shows.

The 11 tracks on "Artistry" are a mix of Big Island-inspired Lim and Lim/Brotman originals, and longtime favorites Lim was eager to record.

"I've always wanted to record 'Pau Hana Rag,' " said Lim. It's his own "signature" mash-up of traditional ki ho'alu and ragtime styles. Of the pretty, traditional-styled original ballad, "Pua A'ala," Lim said, "I've been playing that since I was a young boy."

The graceful contemporary ballad "Mauna Kea Morning" was inspired by a trip to Hilo.

"I was doing a recording project in Puna, and we were staying at the Hilo Hawaiian (hotel)," said Lim. "And I got up on this beautiful sunny morning, went out on the balcony, and there was snow on Mauna Kea.

"I started playing this melody and thought it was really nice. So I recorded it and just kept it, so I'd always remember it."

Lim admits he's experiencing a few more butterflies along with this first solo Grammy nomination. But he knows how to handle anyone in Waimea who dares to sarcastically address him as "Grammy-nominated" Sonny Lim.

"I tell 'em, 'Yeah,' " said Lim. "But I also tell 'em, 'If you drive past my house every week, you'll still see me out there cutting my grass.' "

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.