You heard it here first: 2009 could well be the year of the ukulele. This kitsch cousin to the guitar appears to be taking off, with groups of ukulele players sprouting up across the land, all fancying themselves as bedroom George Formbys rather than Jimi Hendrixes.
The success of The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain has shown that the uke can be deployed to cover Nirvana just as easily as it can be used to wash Mr Wu’s windows. However, the uke is a difficult beast to take seriously and has yet to break the confines of its own novelty island.
Step forward Dent May and his modestly titled instrument. This is a collection of cute and playful songs, much like the instrument itself. Memories of gawky northern novelty ditties are ditched in favour of tropical exotica with a more than a touch of croon. This is heavily inspired by ’50s and ’60s jukebox pop combined with a dash of cocktail lounge chic. The vocals on this album are warm and friendly; May’s style is an off-kilter cross between Morrissey and a tiki bar Brian Wilson. His range rarely varies, but it complements the vibe he is trying to create.
With more than a dash of camp, the album is played with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Thankfully it manages to stay clear of chasing the novelty buck outright. There’s a feeling that this is a labour of love rather than an ironic spoof.
It’s good that someone has taken on the challenge of writing new uke-heavily tracks, but the limitations of the instrument are clear. Everything is infused with happy, playful feelings – It must be difficult to be dark if you’re playing something that normally accompanies wearing a grass skirt. However, to mix things up May adds in a miscellany of interesting characters ranging from faded rock stars to Parisian beauties and misfit dipsomaniacs.
Some of these songs are great and unpretentious toe-tappers, but after a while the fun begins to drag a little, though At The Academic Conference does pull off the difficult feat of making PowerPoint slides sound romantic.
As its title rightly suggests, this is a feel good slice of fun best served with a cocktail in hand. However, it would be interesting to see if anyone can take the uke further into more mainstream song writing. Until that day you’ll find that Dent May had done a good enough job to at least move the instrument from the cabaret circuit and into the bar lounge. What would out George make of it all?