Review Summary: Jake Shimabukuro is bringing the ukulele to new levels, and this album certainly shows that.
The ukulele doesn’t get much respect in the world of pop music and, really, why should it? The most popular song with a ukulele featured is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”, which I can only listen to for a few seconds before wanting to throw my speakers out the window. It’s not even that the ukulele sounds bad, or anything. It’s a nice, soothing, peaceful instrument and, as long as the person playing it knows how to play, it’s hard not to smile when hearing it. Still, with casual American pop listeners, other cultures rarely break through. King Sunny Adé may be a great musician, but the chances of him making it to the top ten of the Billboard 200 are very slim, to say the least. Me, I love the sound of the ukulele, but I never thought anybody could make a really good ukulele album… until I heard Jake Shimabukuro.
“143 (Kelly’s Song)”, the opening track from Peace Love Ukulele, Shimabukuro’s eighth studio album, is an original composition that feels like a great jazz piece. It opens the album with a bang, and sets the mood. He follows up on one great song with another: “Bohemian Rhapsody” (yes, that “Bohemian Rhapsody”). You may be asking yourself, “How can somebody perform a complex song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” on an instrument with four strings and two octaves?” Well, he does, and he does it marvelously. So marvelously, in fact, that the song appears on the album twice (in studio and live).
Track 3, “Bring Your Adz”, is my personal favorite. A catchy, upbeat song with an extremely memorable hook, it succeeds at keeping (and expanding upon) the tone set by the first two tracks. He manages to keep that tone, until five songs in. “Trapped” is the first song on the album that doesn’t work, and the reason is mainly the string arrangements, which are so loud that it drowns out the ukulele. Isn’t the ukulele supposed to be the main attraction, here? This song is followed (thank God) by “Variation on a Dance”. Not a great song, but it does get the flow back. “Pianoforte” comes next, which is one of the album‘s best. Then, “Five Dollars Unleaded”, a good song that makes the unfortunate mistake of bringing back the damn strings. I find it slightly odd that, as somebody who loves string arrangements so much, I hate the strings on this album so much. They tend to add nothing to the songs, and just seem like extra instruments added in.
The album finishes off with a cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah” and a live version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. These songs finish the album on a good note, showing that, even when covering a song you‘ve heard a million times, his masterful way of playing still keeps them interesting. This isn’t a fantastic album (it lags too much for me to give it that much credit), but it is a very good one. It shows the talent of a man who represents the ukulele in popular music better than anybody else. Some compare him to Hendrix; I’d say he’s more like Sonny Rollins. He plays the notes that need to be played, letting his talent move the music without gimmickry. Or vocals.