Have you noticed how blues, country and the ukulele seem to bed so well together? Perhaps it’s the fundamental lure of the 7th chord that enhances this trio so perfectly that draws them together or maybe it’s a reliance on three chord music! But whatever the reason there’s some utterly wonderful blues based music out there in uke-land and the progress of ukulele music into mainstream acceptance is ever bolstered by it.
And so my thoughts are returned to the basement of GNUF where I chanced upon The Grateful Fred Trio who were mid sound check as I descended. They promptly continued with a rather wonderful 20 minute set of a tenor, six string and bass uke, a generous and talented splash of harmonica and some utterly outstanding vocals and harmonies. These guys had gone way further down the road than I IV V and inevitably in my Uke Planet world, I left with an album in my back pocket keen to dig deeper.
The line-up of the band, as mentioned above, already delivers a rich and well rehearsed sound in a traditional lead, rhythm and bass way. The strong vocals are passed around the members of the band which is a great way to add more diversity to a sound and indeed showcase the talents of each singer. But the album goes further still and recruits a number of musicians to mix in a little extra through drums (George Hitchmough), slide guitar (Pete Kennedy of The Kennedies), accordion (Richie Lawrence) and electric guitar (Doug Williams of Wild Ponies). Add to this some terrific production from Peter McPartland and Wim Oudijk and the end result is an expertly crafted album giving us a handsome collection of self penned songs hinting at influences enveloping Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash and Burt Bacharach.
The album begins with Friendly Fire, a catchy vocally harmonised song with a lovely rocking country strum and beat with a pleasing harmonica hook. Denver Road then slows us down with picked chords underneath some lovely electric ukulele blues riffs with a more soulful vocal to match. Further Down The Road follows with a more familiar sounding ukulele riff that soon descends into a bouncy country rhythm with traditional blues chord changes where we are treated to an almost bluegrass of a solo in the middle 8. These styles continue to blend effortlessly in a highly enjoyable manner until the final track, What I Didn’t Learn At School, which brings in the aforementioned Burt Bacharach style to the CD complete with trumpet and laid back tempo with ukuleles, both bass and otherwise, still taking the musical focus. It is quite an unexpected and epic end to the album, the essence of the band still very much prominent whilst offering a very different slant to the clearly talented song writing skills.
Ukulele based music continues to transcend its enthusiastic humble strum fan base and “Further Down The Road” is a glittering example of what the ukulele can be. The album is equally at home on the iPod of the ukulele devotee, Americana enthusiast or simply someone who just appreciates good music when they hear it for The Grateful Fred Trio have indeed recorded an absolute cracker.