Jake Shimabukuro
Gently Weeps / Dragon
CD Reviews by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter

Track listing: Gently Weeps
1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps 2. Ave Maria 3. Wish On My Star 4. Shakura
5. The Star-Spangled Banner 6. Let's Dance 7. Misty 8. Spain 9. Heartbeat/Dragon
10. Blue Roses Falling 11. Grandma's Groove 12. Breathe 13. Angel 14. Lazy Jane
15. Hula Girl 16. Beyond The Break 17. Wish On My Star (vocal version)

Label: Hitchhike Records / Release Date: September 19, 2006

Track listing: Dragon
1. Shake It Up! 2. Dragon 3. Circle of Friends 4. Me and Shirley T. 5. Floaters
6. 3rd Stream 7. Touch 8. En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor (featuring DJ QBert)
9. Toastmanland 10. Making A Perfect Yesterday 11. Looking Back 12. With U Always

Label: Hitchhike Records / Release Date: October 4, 2005

Jake Shimabukuro, the 29-year old ukulele virtuoso from the paradise we call Hawaii, is one of the most pleasant people walking this planet. During my interview with Shimabukuro, I came to discover many different things about this man. Besides being flabbergasted by his technical knowledge of music, I was also blown away by his overwhelming amiable nature. You can't find too many human beings more pleasant than Jake Shimabukuro. But this left me with one significant question though. What the heck does a beautiful human being with a genius musical mind sound like? With the recent release of Shimabukuro's latest album, "Gently Weeps," I've decided to try and explain the many dimensions of Jake Shimabukuro music to you by comparing his 2005 release, "Dragon," and his most recent record, Gently Weeps."

These two records are drastically different in both attitude and style. "Dragon" is essentially a three-piece band effort that thrives on a Jazz / Rock / Pop vibe. The opening track of the album, "Shake It Up!," is a fast-paced Rock track that puts bassist Dean Taba and drummer Noel Okimoto in the forefront. With a strong Latin influence, some flute from Daniel Pardo added, and some blaring horns, it functions as a pacesetter for this upbeat, adventurous record. The disc continues with the title cut, "Dragon," and finds its majestic wings with a memorable melody that sticks like peanut butter to the roof of your ears. The song was inspired by martial arts legend Bruce Lee and hard rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen. As you might imagine, Shimabukuro honors Van Halen by using the "tapping" technique that Van Halen made so popular in songs such as "Eruption." Now let me remind you again, Shimabukuro plays the ukulele. Is he the first to do the "tapping" technique on a ukulele? Uhh, I would bet my fifth and sixth strings on it. As you move through this disc, the melodies get even better too. The fun, carefree feel of "Me & Shirley T" makes life seem brighter; the amazing instrumental savvy of "3rd Stream" makes your head spin; and the passionate and harmonious bellowing from Shimabukuro's uke that takes place on "Toastmanland" is simply stunning.

This is a record that utilizes the full band sound, and examines the skillful way that Shimabukuro can play his ukulele as an accompanying instrument, as well as take on a lead role. Complete with string arrangements, flute, organ, piano, and some programming, this is a superbly written and performed record with a dynamic and full sound.

Another thing that was discussed in my interview with Shimabukuro was his recent movement toward a more classical approach, and the current "Gently Weeps" disc supports that admission entirely. Leading off with his astounding rendition of the George Harrison penned Beatles classic, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," this record is more a delicate piece of ambient art than simply a disc of music.
This time around it's just Shimabukuro and his weapon of mass harmonization. Other than the five bonus tracks that are found at the end of the disc, this is Jake Shimabukuro in the raw. Armed with his uke and a stool, the man lays down some of the most amazing rhythms ever heard on this instrument. Taking on such classical pieces as "Ave Maria" and the Traditional Japanese folk of "Sakura," along with a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Gently Weeps" is yet another giant leap for Jake Shimabukuro.

With "Dragon," Shimabukuro showed us that he can play with a full band and still make the ukulele a force to be reckoned with. On this record he shows us that he can carry an entire album of songs with his ukulele alone. His amazing ability to play a rhythm track while playing the lead strings on a four stringed instrument still makes my brain ache. When I hear songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or "Ave Maria," and hear the rhythm chords being played simultaneous to the "lead vocal" strings, I just have to step away and say "How does he do that?!" Where "Dragon" was an upbeat Jazz influenced record that showcased extraordinary band chemistry, this disc is more of a solemn and artistic foray into a fully exposed artist bonding with his instrument. Now don't get me wrong, there are songs that can rock your socks off ("Grandma's Groove" and "Let's Dance"), and others that are a cheerful ray of sunshine ("Blue Roses Falling"), but for the most part "Gently Weeps" is the musical equivalent to The Louvre.

The bonus tracks on "Gently Weeps" include the fabulous theme song that Shimabukuro wrote for the film, "Hula Girl," and another delightful track included in the film called "Wish On My Star." The bonus track for "Wish On My Star" has a sensational vocal track provided by Jennifer Perri, whereas a version of the song without the vocals is also included on the standard track listing of the disc. Maybe the most welcome surprise on the disc comes by way of a bonus track called "Beyond The Break," which finds Shimabukuro in an all-out, Joe Satriani-type heavy rock jam; and again, he sounds right at home. The five bonus tracks all include the full band format.

Whether you prefer this artist in a complete sonic menagerie or simply by himself, you can be assured of one thing you will get a revolutionary artist playing revolutionary songs. Shimabukuro, with "Gently Weeps," has proven that he can stand alone and still make the ukulele a powerful instrument. He has also showed us that he can conquer anything that's put in front of him. Being billed as the "Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele" is all well and good, but living up to that tall order is a whole other thing. Jake Shimabukuro is not only showing that he can live up to the tall order, but he's starting to cast long shadows over it.

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