By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Even watching the Grande Royale Ukulelists of the Black Swamp set up for a show can be entertaining.
The four members banter among themselves, the convivial jibes are a preview for what’s to come. They tune up with quirky bits of music.
And after playing their first set, Geoff Howes, Sheri Wells-Jensen, Jason Wells-Jensen and Anne Kidder are unable to turn it off. In the back of Grounds for Thought amidst their fans, the band becomes a tangle of hands, bodies contorted so they can all play one ukulele. It’s a regular routine that says much about the teamwork and humor of the band.
GRUBS, as the band is more familiarly known, was at Grounds Tuesday night is unveil their second recording, “If You Think That Way.” The quartet brings together four avocational musicians with varied musical backgrounds including classical voice training, old-time jams, musical theater and church bands. These disparate backgrounds are leavened by the band’s adoption of the ukulele, a fairly recent musical adaptation by all four members.
Not that the ukulele is in anyway a limitation. On stage they display 11 different types of ukes, from the bass that Jason Wells-Jensen uses to lay down the foundation to Kidder’s “baby,” the sopranissimo. There’s a resonator ukulele and several tenors in different shapes as well. That does not include the four instruments that get pulled out for the audience participation segment of the program. These provide a full, uke-chestral backing for the GRUBS solo and harmony vocals.
The dozen-song set captured on “If You Think That Way” distills all the musical qualities of the band minus the between-song repartee. Not that the recording stints on the humor.
Even without Jason Wells-Jensen spoken introduction of an Eastern European wedding ballad, the balalaika-like take on the standard “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” is still a hoot.
And Howes’ rhyming “auto loans” and “traffic cones” with “kidney stones,” always brings a smile, no matter how often you hear it.
“If You Think That Way” comes less than a year after “Uke Tide,” the GRUBS’ debut CD. That featured Christmas music and showcased the quartet’s ability to twist even the hoariest standard into a distinctly GRUBS number.
The CD, Jason Wells-Jensen said, was also done in a Christmas rush. The band recorded “Uke Tide” at Stone Soup Studios in three days, so it would be ready for delivery to stockings by Dec. 25.
This time “we did less in more time,” he said.
The Christmas CD seemed like an obvious way to get a foothold in the market. People will buy the random Christmas CD, Sheri Wells-Jensen said. As soon as that one was in Santa’s bag, the GRUBS were anxious to return to Eric Sills’ studio in Maumee to work on the next recording.
This one better represents GRUBS’ range.
One of the goals was to document songs the band has been playing almost from the start, such as their covers of The Band’s “Ophelia” and a sinister “Mack the Knife,” sung in the original German by Howes, a retired German professor. That’s what you’d expect given two of his bandmates are linguists with Kidder, a banker, the only non-academic in the crew.
More importantly the musicians were intent on getting their originals on record.
Of the 12 songs, five were written by members of the band, including “Sweet Rebecca,” a collective effort, and Sheri Wells-Jensen’s instrumental “Stewart Morris.”
Howes contributed the down-home, wry sendup of “Sugar Ridge,” a knowing, yet loving picture of a local place.
“I wouldn’t have stated writing sings, except Sheri was writing such great songs,” Howes said.
The album takes its title from a line in Sheri Wells-Jensen’s evocative folk ballad “About Gray.” It’s at once wistful and celebratory. “Where You Go” is a touching, and, at times, playful reflection of a parent on a child. “Like the bird you’re singing words no other creature knows,” the songwriter observes.
Kidder said that she was happy to record the originals, and in typical self-deprecating style said when doing her bandmates songs she’s just “doesn’t want to ruin them.”
No fears on that account. All the songs, whether originals or covers, get the full GRUBS treatment – good-humored camaraderie borne of serious attention to musical details.
(“If You Think That Way” is available at Finders in downtown Bowling Green as well as from various online outlets.)