BY BLAIR JACKSON | FROM THE SPRING 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
What a complete and utter delight this album is! Chances are, most regular readers of this magazine are already familiar with the sensational multiple-stringed-instrument-playing duo of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer. They’ve won two Grammy awards, toured the country (and the world!) playing a zillion concerts and music festivals over the past 35 years, and also are highly respected music teachers. They are perhaps best-known at this point for their many CDs and DVDs aimed at children.
I’d categorize WAHOO!, though completely appropriate for all ages, as one of their more adult-oriented albums, and the smiling photo of the duo, each cradling a ukulele, speaks to how important the instrument is to this album; indeed, it is featured on all ten of the tracks here, Fink reliably playing her Tyler tenor, and Marxer adding parts (mostly through the miracle of seamless overdubbing) on Ken Franklin and Collings tenor ukes, a Kevin Enoch banjo uke, and an Ohana Marcy Marxer baritone (there’s nary a soprano in sight!). Additionally, Fink plays a Gibson L-4 guitar on a few songs, and Marxer contributes some six-string of her own, as well as low-end thump courtesy of a Gold Tone Marcy Marxer Model cello banjo (an instrument that was popular in banjo orchestras early in the 20th century but then basically disappeared until its recent revival). Nova Karina Devonie plays accordion on a pair of tracks and Matt Weiner adds some “real” bass on two as well.
The album covers a gamut of different styles and includes both instrumentals and vocal numbers, from the Appalachian bounce of banjo ace Ola Belle Reed’s old-time romp “High on a Mountain” to a ’50s steel-band number called “Boncilla,” a charming Marxer original called “Franklin Tango,” and my personal favorite, the lyrically clever and swinging “Triskaidekaphobia” (that’s fear of the number 13), written by Bobby Troup (of “Route 66” fame) and originally recorded by Les Brown & His Orchestra back in 1947. The wonderful title track, a cowboy tune written by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Cliff Friend in 1936, is one of a couple of numbers that remind me of the loose, retro-Western vibe of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks in places. And the 1930s standard “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”—just voices and two ukes—is a poignant way to end the set.
The layering of the different “voices” and styles of ukuleles is masterful: There are lead lines, rhythm strumming, ukes in harmony, “clawhammer uke”… it’s a veritable ukulele playground! The vocals—lead and harmony—are as spot-on and spirited as the instrumental parts; credit mixer Mike Monseur for keeping all the elements so cleanly articulated and nicely balanced no matter how many parts are on a given song.
There isn’t a weak track on the album, and I’ve found myself returning to WAHOO! again and again in the months since it arrived. If you’d like to give it a test spin, it’s available for streaming on both iTunes/Apple Music and Spotify—but then buy it! I confidently predict you will not be disappointed, and you players might even find some cool songs to add to your repertoire.