Fun, festive family musical outing accessible for all ages
The manager of the music store where I teach tells me that they sell more ukuleles than all other instruments combined. Ukulele clubs and bands have also recently formed in my area. So it’s pretty clear to me that the instrument is experiencing a fairly serious resurgence at present. We must thank virtuoso musicians like Jake Shimabukuro and Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwoʻole for their contributions to the instrument’s popularity. Like them, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer also demonstrate their mastery and skill at using the 4-string instrument to play fun, convivial music from many genres (jazz, folk, pop, swing, classic country). The Maryland-based duo organizes Ukefest in Strathmore, and with 963 other players they attempted the world record for largest ukulele ensemble.
“Rockin’ the Uke” is the duo’s 41st recording during their 35-year music career. With a reputation for affable and approachable acoustic music, Fink & Marxer choose songs to cover that are classic. Inspired by Django Reinhardt, they open with an instrumental arrangement of “Dark Eyes” featuring just lead and rhythm ukes. Other instrumentals on the album include Marcy’s solo renditions of “Old Folks at Home” and “If I Had You,” and Cathy’s arrangement of Kirk McGee’s “Snowdrop.” These are nice interludes between the album’s crowning moments, songs with their cohesive vocals about blues, birds, and of course Hawaii. Many have covered the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away From Me,” but I’m sure this is the first time I’ve heard it sung only with ukuleles.
The original music is also strong with Cathy’s self-penned “It’s a Ukelele” (accompanied by Marcy’s cello banjo), and Marcy’s “Syncopated Washboard Rhythm Song” and “I’ll be Dreaming of Hawaii.” Emphasizing the frolicking, fun-filled, festive nature of ukulele music, some of the tracks include toys, whistles and even a rubber chicken. It becomes a family outing with accessibility for all ages. For a more serious note, we hear some tracks with instrumental accompaniment by Barbara Lamb (fiddle), Ralph Gordon (bass), Lon Ephraim (guitar), Paul White (drums), John Pollard (tuba), Dave Giegerich (lap steel), Mike Stein (fiddle), and Moe Nelson (bass).
All in all, “Rockin’ the Uke” gives us a set of colorful music and not just of the floral variety from the Isles. A project like this will surely help to dispel any myths about the ukelele’s limitations. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer display the instrument’s range and versatility, and they’re contributing momentum to the instrument’s growth. Now they just need a ukulele video that will go as viral as Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” and “Wonderful World.” (Joe Ross)