BY BLAIR JACKSON / From the Fall 2020 issue of Ukulele
Maui uke phenom Andrew Molina is the first to admit that what he wants to convey on his albums is variety: “I can’t stick to one genre,” he told Terry Carter of Uke Like the Pros. Indeed, if you listen to his three albums—The Beginning (2013), New Journey (2017), and his 2020 release, Evolv3—you’ll hear an artist who is clearly in love with many styles and refuses to be pigeonholed into any one. You’ll hear ballads and out-and-out rockers, bits of pop, jazz, reggae, new age. It’s frankly a bit of a stylistic overload to my ears, but what no one can argue with is the demonstrable fact that this guy has serious ukulele chops, and he’s capable of breathing life into any style with sheer virtuosity—and that doesn’t mean just playing fast and flashy, but bringing his great sense of touch and an understated lyricism to lighter tunes.
The tunes on Evolv3 are split just about evenly between Molina’s own compositions and an extremely eclectic batch of cover tunes. How eclectic? Well, for starters there’s Jimi Hendrix’s beautiful, soaring “Little Wing,” on which Molina manages to capture nearly every nuance and tonal shift of
Hendrix’s Strat, using just his uke (nicely accompanied only by guitarist Jamie Lawrence). The next cover is Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1,” originally a piano work, though I know it because of its long-time popularity in the classical guitar world. It’s as delicate as a hothouse flower. I can’t say that either Aerosmith’s hyper-theatrical “Dream On” or the overwrought James Horner-Will Jennings Titanic theme “My Heart Goes On” (popularized by Celine Dion) are songs I ever wanted to hear again, but in the case of the former, Molina really does make it a ukulele tour-de-force, mercifully less screechy than Steven Tyler’s original lead vocal, and “My Heart Goes On” is also reasonably tasteful until the closing crescendo.
Molina’s tunes are a mixed bag for me. My favorites are the driving “Rezurrection 2.0” opener (also a showcase for keyboardist Jerry Kovarsky and Andrew’s bassist father, Jay), his lovely solo turn “Showdown with Scorpion,” and “Celtic Warrior” (with violinist Willy Wainwright). But as with his other albums, I find a few of the tunes a bit too easy listening/middle-of-the-road. I’m also a little disappointed that with each successive album he’s moved further away from traditional Hawaiian music influences.
Still, Molina is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with—a triple threat as a player, writer, and arranger—and I recommend the album strongly.
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