Hester Goodman is best known as an essential cog in the phenomenal machine that is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Stepping away from the customary theatre filling orchestral spectacular and her much applauded vocal duties with Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus), Hester has turned her talents to her first solo album, a fourteen track selection highlighting self penned songs from the last eight years of productivity.
Naturally Hester takes on lead vocals and concert ukulele duties supported by a gifted acoustic band which includes double bass, piano, trombone, accordion and a delightful array of tuned percussion, an instrument family I feel always works particularly well in ukulele based music from the dulcet tones of the marimba to the ever sustaining vibraphone.
You will find no college rock covers here my friends but rather an enchantingly sentimental fusion of folk and jazz rooted original songs with a strong emotional dimension in both constitution and delivery. A personal and perhaps rather quirky thing I like to do with a new album before me is to simply read the song titles. It may seem relatively inconsequential but I do feel a good title is often the core of a quality song and I look for originality even at this early stage. Applying this whim to “You Could At Least Smile” harvests a great deal of titled intrigue including Wall Of Death and Dracula at the dangerously dark end of the spectrum to an expected lighter experience with Lady On A Bicycle and Hat Dance. This is exactly the creativity I like to see, an album whose track listing alone can draw me into its linguistic spell. I put great stock into lyrical content and Hester’s broad and sometimes shadowy writing style is very enthralling.
After two wonderfully touching opening tracks there’s a terrific spark of divergence with Low Down Dirty Blues adding a powerful male bass voice to the mix (Pando) complete with a solo from the vibes. The delightful accordion backed Darlington Waltz then whisks us to a street café in Paris with a ukulele instrumental interlude and presently Dracula makes his appearance very much rooted in a Tango with some unsettling bowed double bass in the middle section.
Sommambulaire is another intriguing twist, a song bringing the harmonica to the ensemble with Hester providing doo-wop backing vocals straight from the 1950’s. One can almost picture Frenchy singing the tune to Frankie Avalon. Hat Song then unleashes the flying sticks of tuned percussion and rattling bones into a second and unruly instrumental followed by the almost hymn-like Lady On A Bicycle, each track a distinctive flavour from the last.
My suspicion this album would a rainbow of musical diversity is pleasingly validated. Every song offers a welcome contribution to a richly divergent collection of beautifully written songs, each performed with care and talent with mesmerising refinement in abundance. Hester Goodman’s debut solo album is utterly charming exhibiting a seductive array of styles and is to be zealously recommended.
Find out more about Hester at the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain website or indeed follow her on Twitter. You can buy the album from your favourite download site or on CD form aforementioned website.
This review first appeared in the fabulous UKE Magazine Issue 6 (June 2016).