What have we come to expect from solo ukulele artists? Plenty of strumming, perhaps some off beat chops with a little rhythm or a soulfully picked pouring of the heart? Let’s begin listening to the new album from Victoria Vox and assess that lazy assumption. Robotic vocals, piano, a bass line reflecting the sound and style of The Killers, over-driven guitar power chords, bright rhythmic uke patterns that you won’t hear at the ukulele club and catchy modern pop-tastic vocals with the gentle flavour of Lady Gaga. Heavens, we’re only on track one!
After that brilliant opening track Victoria does not allow us to rest upon our exploratory laurels as Out On The Rails adds a terrific jazz upright bass line, brushed snare and some wonderfully effective finger clicks, the vocals sensual, breathy and full of depth. Kick It Back then puts the uke front and centre with a worldly Paul Simon feel to the rhythm backed with more tremendous bass playing and a full kit taking on the rhythm. Hand claps high up in the mix with a great effect on the vocals and their perfectly positioned harmonies add an exact measure intensity just as it’s required.
Track four, Only Time Will Tell, is much more traditionally placed in the genre we expect with a delightful laid back feel and muted mouth trumpet solo (which is amazing by the way!). In this more familiar territory Victoria’s artistry continues its compassionate and triumphant journey. And this is the thing dear reader, whether Victoria Vox is pushing the pop boundaries or meandering into mellow jazz the song writing and performance skill is always exquisite. The arrangements are genuinely the best I’ve ever heard in what we can loosely call the “ukulele genre” and the quality of the recording and mixing is impeccable. The styles are indubitably varied but always very Vox, always with a ukulele kernel. The genre wanders but the distinct character remains.
The latter half of the album continues the brilliance, there is no room for filler material here. Daytime Moon soothes us with a feel of an era gone by with gentle ukulele chords atop a freshly wound music box with vintage Hollywood harmonies. Contemplate I’ll See You In My Dreams for a new generation. A dalliance with reggae comes with Sounds Of The Summer with a gut wrenching bass and organ whilst the waltzing Harmony brings the piano to the forefront courtesy of co-producer Hal Ratliff, a song perhaps yearning for a place in a musical theatre performance. More trumpeting and trad jazz bass present us with Tugboat before the album ends on a sad note with Wildwood. I always like an album that leaves one in a contemplative mood and Wildwood’s melancholic piano and inwardly reaching vocals left me, a pretty emotionally tough bastard quite frankly, feeling happily dolorous.
This is the greatest and most original album I have heard in a long time, Victoria, you are a genius. Varied, inspiring, utterly professional and over flowing with talent in every rotating groove. Forget everything you know about “ukulele albums”, “Colorful Heart“ is an outright brilliant record. In fact it’s perfect.