Peace Love Ukulele
Banish any thoughts of window cleaning: Jake Shimabukuro may play the ukulele, but it's nothing like the diminutive guitar-a-like's other famed strummer, George Formby (though he, of course, used a banjolele for The Window Cleaner).
The virtuoso Hawaii-born Shimabukuro, who has performed with Bette Midler for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, takes his ukulele far more seriously and, thanks to the likes of Jason Mraz and last year's Hey, Soul Sister by Train, it seems the rest of the world does now, too.
In fact, 2010 seemed to be the year of the uke, with the instrument found in (almost) all corners of the entertainment world, from Glee to Taylor Swift. With Peace Love Ukulele, Shimabukuro uses his outrageously fiddly finger skills to take his ukulele on a genre-crossing journey from the fast-paced twiddle-fest of Bring Your Adz to the slushy lounge of Boy Meets Girl. And the second you're sitting back under mood lighting with a mocktail, you're hit with Go for Broke, a slow, dreary piece that could easily soundtrack a miserablist First World War flick.
Yet it's hard not to appreciate his Bohemian Rhapsody, in which he spectacularly fuses the full range of vocal and instrumental parts into one ukulele piece without a hint of irony. You'll sing along. It'll sound strange, but you will.
Also out this week
Israel 'Iz' Kamakawiwo'ole Iz: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Decca)
If Jake Shimbakuro is the hip young thing of the ukulele world, the late, great Iz - also from Hawaii - was the innovator. While he was a pioneer in his fusion of jazz and reggae with more traditional uke music, it was his gorgeous renditions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World that really helped the instrument rise well above its formerly somewhat comic status. His posthumous fame has been considerable, with his songs featuring in countless movies and advertisements since his death in 1997, and riding high in the charts in Europe and America over the past decade. They are classic numbers from a great talent that still sound fresh and free-spirited nearly 20 years after their first release back in 1993.