Uke Magazine – In association with Uke Planet .co.uk
Bass, whether it be upright or hanging around someone’s neck, is a perfect companion to the bright bubbling personality of the ukulele. These two counterweights of the musical spectrum gel so graciously together, the big and the small, the driven and the delicate, David and Goliath working as one. Rarely crossing pitch, each capable of melody, rhythm and finesse, both happily support the other and intertwine their contradictory voices to fill the stave with complimentary and respectful notes and cadence.
‘The Wend’ is the debut album from ukulele playing Matt Stead and bass guitarist Rob Ash, a partnership, then, full of promise and musical opportunity. However, unquestionably compatible, instrumentally duetting without relying on a drummer or percussionist to keep you in check or vocals to focus the ear is not easy. Nor is producing a whole CD of tracks that can retain the listener’s attention as it’s often the catchy pop chorus that usually passes the old grey whistle test after all!
Thankfully through the first track alone, Running Over Pebbles, the listener instantly knows the pair understand completely how this works, how to bounce the instruments off each other and keep the interest flowing from the first note to the last. The tempos and moods sway in and out to produce a true transient and fluid adventure of emotion and fervour. Ukulele melody is abundant, there’s simply no requirement for vocals of any kind and every chosen note is perfectly necessary to produce an absolute balance.
The rest of the album varies lavishly in style. Aust Ferry happily leans into the territory of toe-tapping country, complete with fiddle (courtesy of Alison Simmons) and an energised staccato blues bass, the creativity taking a wild semitonal twist towards the end. Meanwhile, The Wend, Felt and Brambles take a much gentler approach with some sweetly picked melodies. In further contrast Uke Jam has a real experimental feel, heaped with percussive uke chugging and a deeper and, dare I say it, funkier approach to the bass underpinning a reverb soaked ukulele melody.
This album is a wondrous and insightful debut, a defined exemplification of how bass and ukulele can work so purposefully together. It’s passion, melodic twists, varying tempo and gusto allow the mind to absorb completely into this musical odyssey.
Review – Mike Flaherty, June 2017
Cool Cat Ukes
Well, this is a remarkable album. On many points. Moving quickly from the psychedelic cover, you pull out a sleeve. For those too young to remember old fashioned records, this is as close as you can get to the record experience without the “real thing”. The sleeve then contains a black CD. With grooves. I’ve never seen either of those, and it was with trepidation I put it into the 21st century CD drive.
There was no blue smoke, but instead, one of the best mixed and produced ukulele CDs I’ve heard. Someone called David Pick takes the credit for the production, and a very good job he’s done, too. In one of my parallel lives, I have the pleasure of working with some very high end audio equipment that will expose details in recordings that you’ve never heard before. This time, the attention to the stereo spacing and staging was obvious. Suffice to say that the production is top notch.
So, onto the music! The album is all original instrumentals with Matt Stead on ukulele and Rob Ash on bass. Nothing is overdone, nothing fighting for attention. “Running Over Pebbles” is a gentle introduction to the album, gentle fingerpicking and subtle bass work leads to an up-tempo section with some nice z-chord* action.
“Aust Ferry” has a nice swing to it, well placed bass runs. And then a violin accent – nothing too much just right. “Jacob’s Ladder” has a lovely running rhythm and string bend. For those of us learning ukulele, there’s lots of little techniques in this album as examples, but expertly done. “The Wend” even has a harmonic ‘ping’ at the end of a phrase.
My favourite track is “Uke Jam”. It’s not the soundtrack of twenty players frantically sitting around song books in a room trying the be the loudest. In fact, I can’t really understand where the title comes from. I just imagine it’s the theme tune for a TV series about a British spy based in West London in the 70s. Driving a Ford Capri. It’s all based around a big bass line with the ukulele over the top and what sounds like some tap percussion on the uke body. I expect the BBC are calling Matt and Rob right now for usage rights.
What’s the genre of this album? Maybe folk, swing, a little jazzy in places? I don’t know, but you can play it as background music, or to properly listen to – as I already have many times over, and not tired of it.
This album is proper music, no thrash ukulele, nothing fighting for attention. It’s really well arranged, superbly recorded and as I said before, well produced and mixed. For these reasons this album gets a Cool Cat Ukes Recommended Album Award. I really try to avoid giving these out, a recording has to make a big impression to get one.
Go to The Wend website to buy the CD. Digital downloads are available, but I’d suggest you buy the real thing for the ‘psuedo record’ experience.
7 tracks, 29 minutes.
1. Running Over Pebbles
2. Aust Ferry
3. The Wend
4. Uke Jam
6. Jacob’s Ladder
Review – Simon Taylor, 6th March 2017
Cool Cat Ukes
This has so many genres, the only way I can describe it is as a “smorgasboard of sound”. It starts with some delicate fingerpicking, lulling you into a false sense of security, then rolls into a 70s beat in some ways similar to what you hear on their excellent album ‘The Wend’ (which received our recommended album award). From there, it’s a rollercoaster of musical style and variety. In some ways it’s like ‘The Wend’ got put into a blender and this came out. (but in a nice way).
For ukulele fans, this CD is a great thing for a good few reasons.
- You are trying to convince someone of the flexibility of the ukulele
- You want to listen out for different techniques
It’s certainly not one of those ukulele CDs that you put on and the music snobs say “what the hell’s that?” – you know the response. More likely to get a “who is that?” genuinely interested response.
On the technique side, there’s finger picking, there are string bends, there are many different strum styles from flat strums to rhythmic ‘chunking’. The music itself moves from pop to spanish to jazz to classical and more. At about 13:30 it even sounds like my good friends the Hedge Inspectors have turned up!
It’s called ‘Autobiography’, and it appears to be a project where Matt and Rob did something for themselves – in their words: “On 23rd April we headed into the studio to record something a bit different. Something a bit special. One half hour piece of ukulele music with bass, drums, keys and guitar. The result is Autobiography – a record about life. We wanted to create something as emotive as possible, with the happy parts sounding ecstatic and the melancholic parts sounding as sad as possible. It might sound pretentious but that’s how life is.”
So, it may be a bit of a vanity project, but it’s very well done and is an amazing example of what an artist can do with the ukulele. Worth a listen if only for the intrigue of what can be done. Go to www.thewend.com to buy, or see Matt & Rob at a gig or festival near you.
1 track, 29 minutes.
Review – Simon Taylor, 10th June 2017