Lurking in deepest darkest Brisbane, one wears a fez and plays soprano uke, one wears a bowler and plays double bass. It already sounds great doesn’t it! These two characters have a terrific ukulele pedigree and performing partnership having first worked together on Ukulele Mekulele performed at Sydney Opera House no less. I know, that’s impressive isn’t it! “Optimism” indeed then as this is their fifth album together, 14 original songs crowdfunded on that there Internet and brimming with old fashioned charm and whimsy.
On my very first listen to the CD I was expecting a lashing of subtle jocularity and there are a number of wonderful songs on the album that check this expectation entirely. My curiosity was aroused then by the opening track, an instrumental called Ukulele Surprise, an almost minimalist prelude of soprano arpeggios with a supernatural nuance of bowed double bass harmonics. Surprise indeed and a welcome one at that.
Closely followed by I’m Gonna Dream we are thrown into a light song with a old time bounce, a lovely ukulele strum and I V rhythmic bass embellished with perfectly placed grace notes and a little light walking. The vocal spirit of the 1950’s lifts the track wonderfully with backing from fellow Aussie ukulele band, The Pockets. Equally delightful is Lost Pets, a slower melancholic tune with seemingly simple but heart wrenching lyrics, a tearful song sincerely performed. For me this is the tune that defines just how talented Tyrone & Lesley are. The skill needed to pull our emotions from amused jubilation to sombre beauty is a rare one but these guys have it in abundance. The song writing in this gentle tune is exquisite, the chords chosen with great care, the melody sorrowfully sweet and the words are delivered as if read from a fading lamppost of hope infused with a true sense of poetry.
Let us not forget however, these chaps are true entertainers and the album is awash with plenty of alluring humour. The first song that dabbles with the daft is Dung Beetle, a considered ballad of sophisticated finesse who’s clever lyrics instantly startle you at a tangent to the tender ukulele with the opening reference to the cited coleoptera. In only four words I find myself nodding in appreciation of the artful and droll use of language…
Dung beetle. Roll call.
My favourite “fun” song is Peppercorn, a riff of a number based around the rhythmic animation of those three syllables. Mouth Trumpet is also worthy of isolation which I am sure has audiences, particularly ukulele audiences, clapping, singing and smiling. An uptempo tribute to the highly used uke-scene solo instrument the song has a gentlemanly vintage vibe featuring the expertly blown eponymous instrument of course.
I cannot remember the last time I played a ukulele album over and over quite so much. “Optimism” is a combination of wit, charisma, expertise and grace consummated into a superlative album. It’s cliched but I genuinely mean this, if you only buy one ukulele album this year… It truly is absolutely top class.