Hawaiian slack key guitarist Stephen Inglis holds one impressive resume. Barely out of his teens, 1998 saw Inglis form a band with Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann; in 2009 his song ‘Redwood Slack Key’ was nominated for a Grammy, and in 2012 he recorded an album with one of the greatest legends known to Hawaiian music, the late Dennis Kamakahi, a CD held in such high esteem it’s now on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington.
Inglis’ latest release is Learning You By Heart. The 13-track album is brimming with raw, straight-from-the-soul emotion, narrated no truer than by a voice and an acoustic guitar. In fact, Inglis’ connection with his guitar has aged like fine wine - a palpable synergy engendered by a simple but endlessly deep love of music. Title track ‘Learning You By Heart’ is a heavenly number, adorned with shimmering mandolins and light female backing vocals that lend ethereality throughout. ‘Troubadour’ plays with country-blues influences in Inglis’ trademark soothing setting, while ‘Lay Your Dagger Down’ employs a mellow rockabilly groove - think Elvis Presley’s version of ‘Mystery Train’ but more sedated. Inglis writes about the strains touring puts on a relationship in ‘Carousel’: “This carousel, it can be a sweet ride/ But you know it’s so much easier when you’re riding by my side. Sometimes it’s hard to keep belief, there’s a golden ring/But it’s damn sure worth a try when I feel the love you bring."
Learning You By Heart is an album that revels in the beauty of simplicity. Stephen Inglis is able to blend genres so fluidly and easily that his changeability almost goes straight over your head – a testament to his exceptional song-writing ability.