Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jake Shimabukuro – Dragon

Prairie Music

Jake Shimabukuro – Dragon

To quote Monty Python, ”…and now for something completely different.”

This is the best Ukulele album I’ve ever heard!!!

No, wait…come back!

Seriously though, Jake Shimabukuro’s latest release, Dragon, is amazing. You would be missing out if you wrote it off. I have rarely heard other instrumentalists capture the voice of their instrument as clearly and passionately as Jake Shimabukuro.

My introduction to Jake came from a friend at work who excitedly told me that, “You just have to see this.” “This” as it turned out was a video clip from youtube.com of some guy in Central Park playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the Ukulele. Enter, Jake Shimabukuro.

So, I watch the video clip and I’m just floored. I mean, this guy is just ripping it up on…the Ukulele. I have played guitar for nineteen years and I was just floored by this guy playing what I had always assumed to be just kind of a “toy.” This one video clip made me realize that I was hideously ill-informed and frankly I was kind of embarrassed by thinking of myself as a musician and yet being so ignorant about music.

The very first thing I did, after picking my jaw up off the floor, was hit the web and try to find out who Jake Shimabukuro is. I found his website at www.jakeshimabukuro.com. I did some digging and found out that he has had five albums out since 2002: Skyline, Sunday Morning, Crosscurrent, Walking Down Rainhill and his most recent, Dragon.

I stumbled on a copy of Dragon at a local Borders a few weeks later and instantly convinced a friend to buy it after a, “you gotta hear this” and a quick listen. We ended up splitting the hefty eighteen dollar price tag (why Borders, why?) and now I have an album to tell you about.

Dragon is not a Ukulele album. It’s a very well crafted instrumental album where the main instrument happens to be a Ukulele. You’re presented with twelve songs that showcase Jake Shimabukuro’s command of the Ukulele and also his very accomplished songwriting talents. The songs are all fleshed out with good structure and melodies, while his playing is incredibly fluid and spot on.

For any musicians reading this, if you’ve never heard two-hand tapping done on a Ukulele, listen to the title track on Dragon. Here’s another stray thought, I wonder if the distorted “guitar” track on Shake It Up! was done on the Ukulele? Hey, if Bela Fleck can have an electric banjo, why not an electric Ukulele?

If I had to categorize it for anyone without my iPod and their very own "Prairie Music" genre, I guess I would place it under the Jazz section. However there are echoes of several different musical styles on Dragon including Latin, Rock and New Age as well as Jazz.

Overall, Dragon, while having its roots in Jazz, is a very easy album to listen to. Its acoustic vibe doesn’t get overly complicated just to show that it can. Instrumentally, the album is flawless and sonically, I think you will be as surprised by what the Ukulele actually sounds as I was.

To Jake and all of the other Ukulele players out there in the world, I think I owe you an apology for taking so long to figure out what a great instrument you have.

You can purchase Dragon @


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