Classical ukulele is not at the forefront of many people’s minds when they consider this fabulous wee instrument and this is something Paul Mansell aimed to address on this album. Recorded live and overdub free in the studio, Paul has packed twenty six tracks onto this single CD, the bulk of which are solo classical pieces transcribed for high and low G uke but there’s a smattering of flamenco and ragtime too… just to keep us on our dancing toes.
We’re eased into things with a tune we all know, it’s best Butch Cassidy hats on for a gentle rendition of Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. By track two however both we and the performer are challenged a little more with as the “serious” concert begins with the Adagio from Conceirto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo. This a particularly arduous piece and one has to marvel at the accuracy and control needed to pull off something with such complexity on such a diminutive fingerboard. Performed live I am sure the audience’s eyes would be fixed on Paul’s adroit digits but one can still appreciate the finesse and dexterity of this performance in its audio only format.
We are then perhaps surprised to hear Here Comes The Sun, and here lies a common theme of the album as it shakes us around a little with the order of tracks as we’re often plunged between the easy and the thoughtful. When I say “easy” I mean it purely in a foot tapping sense as the intricacy of the lighter side of the album is often as demanding as the academic. And so that style continues, the flamboyancy of some exquisitely performed classical movements softened by a modicum of more recognisable tunes but all done in a way that merges the old and the new, the classical and the contemporary into a smooth seamless sound which carries though the entire recording.
There are two original compositions here too, Spanish Dance and Fallin’ Coconuts both of which provide a splendid performance the latter with a delightful traditional ukulele music hall ragtime blues feel, the former delivering some fan strummed flamenco at the wood tapping tempo its title suggests.
Me, My Ukuleles & I is a mighty fine illustration of just what is possible on this most humble of musical instruments and a cosmos of kudos must go to Paul Mansell for arranging and performing these wonderful pieces so brilliantly, each and every note congested with cleverness, competence and taste.