Back in 2006 Jens Lekman gave away his ukulele. “For me, my Ukulele is somehow standing in my way,” he wrote. “Because it never was a part of my music as I imagined it. It doesn’t lead me anywhere anymore. So if you want it (it’s free), here’s what you have to do: Go on a vacation, somewhere you’ve never been before (doesn’t have to be far away), and send me a postcard with your address.”
A likely candidate to have received that cast-off instrument is Dent May, a boy from Taylor, Mississippi, who shares many musical similarities with Jens, but not his anti-uke sentiment. May’s band is called Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele, and the little four-stringed instrument is the centerpiece of his tunes, leading him everywhere that he chances to go.
While Lekman began to see the ukulele as a kitschy impediment to his more serious songwriting (his last record, Night Falls Over Kortedala, is still humorous, but with a heavier emotional perspective), May sees it as the gateway into his own musical world. In this way, May is much more in line with the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt. On Merritt’s 2006 album Showtunes, a happy chorus sings:
“When I hear the sound of that little brown thing humming, / I don’t know if I’m going or coming, / Down, up down, up down, down, keep strumming / Ukulele me!”
May also draws from Merritt’s whimsical wistfulness and theatrical delivery. One can’t help but hear the similarity to the Fields in ditties like “Pierce Avenue” and “When You Were Mine,” both songs streaming on May’s Myspace page.
The world will likely be seeing and hearing more of May and his uke very soon. His debut full length comes out February 3 on Pawtracks.
And, did you know ukuleles were all the rage during the Great Depression?