Zacquine Miken and Marius-Antonin Fleck blend Singapore and Germany together with their uplifting, fun and authentic sounding original ukulele tunes. This unique fusion has produced an 11 track album… so let’s dig in.
The open track is a jolly affair, a root to fifth bouncing bass with a delightful picked ukulele, the vocals shared between the two. This light happy song is a great opener setting the stall for things to come and toying with rock in the ukulele solos culminating in a minimalist and effective fade out. You don’t see fade outs that much anymore. I used to think it lazy but in hindsight I consider it a useful studio tool and not necessarily the effect of procrastination. Oh Lord has a marching snare drum to keep it this blues style number rolling along again with more great solos before the mood softens with Drawn To You (a single we have featured before – spoiler… we really liked it).
Shizukesaya is clearly rooted in the East, a peaceful ukulele with Japanese spoken word and an ocarina which is an instrument I’m always surprised doesn’t feature more in ukulele music as they click together very nicely. Definitely a song to be massaged to. The pace and fun soon pick up again with a song about a pet fish called NamNam which features some particularly nice ukulele intro picking. Indeed picked intros are certainly a feature as seen again in Singa Queen where the tuba takes the bass line perhaps giving a nod to the German side of the duo and putting me in mind of the “Yellow Submarine” era of the fab four.
The diversion from original compositions comes from a corking live version of Tip Toe Through The Tulips, Zacq’s rich and wonderful voice adding some real passion to this vintage classic atop a traditional strum and a modicum of percussion. Whilst far from an unconventional choice of song in the ukulele world (see Tiny Tim), it’s a glorious version and well deserves its place in this collection, gorgeous as it is infused with a little Z&M magic.
The range of song style takes us ever further as the last three songs move away from the ukulele. Xi Wang De Guang Xian for example has some heart plucking chord structure and a more contemporary sound with piano, cello and flute. Even the vocals are more modern in their presentation. It’s very interesting from a “music biz” perspective that the album is sequentially arranged this way, 7 originals, 1 cover and 3 non-uke tracks. Zacq & Mari have clearly made a conscious decision here to split the album up into sections. As a ukulele reviewer I have zero problem if there are non-ukulele tracks on an album, indeed I welcome diversity. But in this instance the feel of these three tracks are very different from the ukulele based songs and it’s more like a free EP in its own right tagged onto the album. I think that’s a good way to approach listening to them.
Zacq & Mari have produced an interesting album here. It’s a true coalescence of sound, the vibes of East and West are celebrated throughout projecting a harmonious message in various clever ways. “A Cross-Continental Ukulele Joinery” is exactly that built upon some fine writing and musicianship. It’s not really a direct comparison but my favourite non-ukulele (I know!) album of the last few years was blur‘s amazing comeback, “The Magic Whip”. Written in Hong Kong this album had blur’s stamp front and centre but somehow absorbed the culture that surrounded them at the time. “A Cross-Continental Ukulele Joinery” feels exactly the same. Did I just compare Zacq & Mari to one of my all time favourite bands? I believe I did… well it must be pretty good then!