From the Fall 2016 issue of Ukulele | BY GREG OLWELL
In addition to his regular appearances as a teacher and performer at ukulele festivals, Daniel Ward is talented and highly experienced player. Trained as a classical guitarist, Ward has the chops to tackle just about anything and on El Ukulele he does. Throughout, Ward’s playing, songwriting, and cover choices make a fantastic argument for the ukulele to have a regular place playing solo flamenco, soca, bossa nova, and just about any other kind of music from the Latin world.
Nowhere is Ward’s groove and technical mastery more evident than on “Black Orpheus” and “Istanbul.” Originally composed by Luiz Bonfa, one of the greatest guitarists and composers to emerge from the extraordinary Brazilian scene in the ’50s, “Black Orpheus” features a few tracks of Ward’s ukulele tastefully soloing over the smoldering melody and rhythm of this bossa nova classic. “Istanbul” features Ward playing some deep flamenco, with fleet-fingered rasgueados and picados.
In solo and band settings, Ward uses his voice, and a full range of ukuleles (bass, baritone, tenor, concert, and sopranino) to get his message across, and the message seems to be that the ukulele is an expressive instrument capable of just about any style. El Ukulele ranges from delirious fun to mournful duende and introspection.
Taking its name from the classic banjo technique called clawhammer, Lil’ Rev’s latest album is 21 tracks of old-time country and folk classics, including some string-band instrumentals.
The Milwaukee player is joined by many other musicians, playing harmonica, string bass, guitar, steel guitar, fiddle, and vocals. The vibe is distinctly old-timey, made more so by Lil’ Rev’s use of the clawhammer technique on every song, whether he’s playing a resonator-, banjo-, or standard ukulele. (In contrast to the upstrokes used in most fingerstyle playing, clawhammer uses downstrokes, played with the back of the fingernail, using a stiff, claw-shaped hand.)
Most of the album’s pieces are covers of traditional songs and flow through a range of tempos and emotions, like the stomping instrumental “Old Joe Clark” or the slow-burning classic “Angeline the Baker.” However, the two most moving tracks might be the pair penned by Rev: The solo instrumentals “Old No.7” and “Epiphany in Gm” feature Rev flailing out melodies with full doses of soul and rhythm.
The recording is intimate, like Rev and his friends are in a cozy living room playing for us. Claw and Hammer is more than an album of good ukulele-driven music; it’s simply a strong album of music, played in the style of Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson.
Victor & Penny are the stage names of ukulele-playing vocalist Erin McGrane and guitarist-vocalist
Jeff Freling. The Kansas City–based duo plays an intoxicating brand of jump blues and KC-style swing with its backing band, the Loose Change Orchestra. McGrane drives the band with her comping and swinging vocals. The band cops a sound from the era when acoustic instruments ruled, but the vibe here is positively electric and mounds of fun. Drop the disc in your CD player, and grab a partner for some dancing.
With the raw vibe of a “live in the studio” recording, Motley Uke’s four-song EP of heavy metal uke is more goofy fun than it is headbanging, face-melting metal.
Take On the 80s
From a reggae-fied take on the prom classic “I Melt With You,” to a bluesy twist on New Order’s “Blue Monday,” to a swinging “Tainted Love,” Los Angeles–based uker Jason Arimoto takes on some of radio’s favorites from the ’80s on this four-song EP.