Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
Record label: Paw Tracks
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Uke-wielding descendant of Jonathan Richman delivers"Welcome to my record," Dent May croons in a deep, syrupy drawl at the beginning his Magnificent Ukulele's debut full-length (the prolific Mississippian has already had several genre-spanning projects). Much like the moniker and basic modus operandi (he plays ukulele on all but one track here, augmented by a band), the introduction at first feels a little gimmicky. But further inspection reveals a charming ("Oh, Paris!") and often hilarious ("God Loves You, Michael Chang") songwriter who waxes delightful throughout these dozen tracks.
Dent May seems an unlikely pop star. The diminutive singer sports the largest spectacles in show biz since Larry "Bud" Melman, has the kind of baby face that rivals Truman Capote for pinchabilty, and plays the ukulele, for Pete's sake. Fortunately, once the album (The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele) begins to play any doubts about his ultra twee appearance or choice of instrument are swept away by the brilliant single "Meet Me in the Garden." The lyrics are instantly memorable, the melody is instantly hummable, and it's the kind of tune that brings a smile to your ace every time it comes on the radio.
For an album so reflective of a certain musical style and sound, The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele manages to contemporise itself without sounding ridiculous. There’s a large possibility that ukulele music sung by a faux-crooner who echoes Morrissey (honestly, listen to 'College Town Boy') would sound completely ridiculous, but there’s so much charm to be found in the honed brass and string arrangements here - not to mention the clever lyrics - that it never meanders into that territory. The fundamental flaw, if there’s one to be found, is that the title suggests very little of what is actually contained on the album.
Young fogey Dent May isn’t exactly screaming at the gates of hell while swooning groupies pump syringes into his arm. Instead, his music is a positive invocation to grab a pipe, some slippers, and pull a blanket over your legs as you lull back and forth in your favorite rocking chair. An unlikely addition to Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks roster, May’s songs are humorous, unabashedly retro and likely to grate on repeat listens.After a mercifully brief welcoming song, May begins with the summery “Meet Me in the Garden.” His vocals are reminiscent of Edwin Collins back in the early days of Orange Juice, and “Meet Me in the Garden” gives May a chance to show off his impressive falsetto.
Dent May is sharing an inside joke with us. It’s in his dorky, clean-cut innocent look, it’s in the wryly placed, over-the-top stock transitions and green-screen in his Howard video, it’s in his lyrics. The schmaltz is all part of his persona: the ‘shoo-bee-doo-bap’ backing tracks and brass shots liken comparisons to fellow 50’s-pop throwback artists like Jens Lekman or even Beirut, but Dent May’s ironic persona ends up undermining the album’s charm.
Dent May's debut goes far in redeeming the unfairly maligned reputation of the ukulele, achieved less from his handling of the instrument than through the more ambitious pop arrangements of Good Feeling. The Mississippi native's dramatic croon mocks Morrissey through a filter of Brian Wilson, but he never takes himself as seriously as either. Instead, much of the album echoes Jens Lekman's ballads, lovelorn on "Girls on the Square" and "Oh Paris!" but with a self-conscious hokeyness like tennis-champ ode "God Loves You, Michael Chang." While the quirk charms "You Can't Force a Dance Party" and the hilarious "I'm an Alcoholic," similar stabs "At the Academic Conference" and "College Town Boy" hit the tipping point of amusement.