It’s been another golden year for the ukulele. Time to wrap it up with some of my favourites. Let me know yours in the comments. Particularly if it’s something I’ve missed.
Ukulele Record of 2016: Bud Sugar – VIBE
Bud Sugar’s “Cod Head Skank” mix of ska, beats, ukulele shenanigans and infectious pop melodies on their debut EP has managed to buck up my mood many times this year. Also essential is Stan’s (the band’s uker) own YouTube channel EatMyUke.
Liam Capper-Starr – Needs More Cello: Incredible playing on this record.
Raiatea Helm – He Leo Huali
Jake Shimabukuro – Nashville Sessions: A lot of Jake’s recent albums have seemed safe and dull to me. So it’s very heartening to hear him taking some risks and showing why he’s the biggest ukulelist in the world.
La Familia de Ukeleles – El Gran Rubi: I’m cheating a bit here since it came out in December 2015 but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it before 2015’s list.
Astraluna – The Pass of Storms: Brilliant debut album from the Leeds uker.
Ukulele Song of 2016: La Familia de Ukeleles – Cherry’s World
I don’t hear much from the Argentine ukulele scene. But what they lack in quantity they certainly make up with in quality with fiery swing of La Familia de Ukelele.
Instrumental Performance of 2016: Ben Rouse – Smooth Criminal
Ben’s an incredible player. So much so he’s now regularly appearing with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Somehow this video only has 14 views as I’m writing this. I blame myself for not finding it earlier.
George Elmes – Tiger Rag
Herman Vandecauter – Four Italian pieces from Filippo Sauli
Mathias CéVé – Daphné
Jonathan Lewis – Devil in a Haystack
Jake Shimabukuro – Kilauea
Andrew Molina – Game of Thrones
Iris Wagner – Into Fire and Frost
Fidel and Sarah Anne – Greasy Coat
Ukulele Cover 2016: Jim Boggia – Thunder Road
I’m constantly in awe of Jim Boggia’s ukulele arrangements. They’re always inventive, interesting and compelling but never get in the way of the song.
Tiffany Topol – I Can’t Make You Love Me: This was the hardest category for me to judge this year because I absolutely love this one too. It’s my favourite version of one of my favourite songs. No mild claim on a song that’s been covered by Bon Iver and Adele.
The Memphis Ukulele Band – Blue Bayou
EatMyUke – Sgt Peppers Medley
Most Lusted After Ukulele of 2016: Kanile’a Platinum 2016 Tenor
This category is entirely judged on how much I want one of these ukes that I am never going to be rich enough to afford or talented enough to deserve.
Favourite Song Chorded: Prince – Purple Rain
It seems like I’ve spent half of the year doing tribute posts with the deaths of Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Three legendary songwriters.
Favourite Song Tabbed: Gene Wilder – Pure Imagination
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Best Hawaiian Language Performance: Raiatea Helm – Ke Kani Hone O Na Manu
Raiatea Helm must have the world’s purest voice. It’s like washing your hair in a mountain stream (or like washing your beard in a mountain stream in my case). Her previous albums have been a bit over-produced for my taste but her latest, He Leo Huali, retains the crystal clarity without losing any warmth.
Best Non-Ukulele Record of 2016: Savages – Adore Life
As a fan of loud, fast and nasty rock music pickings have been slim in recent years. But this Savages record kept me happy all year.
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo: Kanye is a full-on musical genius. I don’t care how much of a jackass he is.
Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz, & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1960 – 1981: Incredible grooves on this record and I love the shimmering guitar runs.
Dawda Jobarteh / Stefan Pasborg – Duo: If a collaboration between a Gambian kora player and a Danish jazz drummer sounds too worthy and chin-scratching, that was also my initial reaction. Turns out it rocks like a motherfucker.
Vulfpeck – The Beautiful Game: Easily the funnest album of the year.
Best Game I Played in 2016: Hitman (2016)
This is the perfect game for me. I love puzzles. I love sneaking around undetected. I love hanging around in fancy locations. I love murdering people in bloody, convoluted ways.
Firewatch: The best soundtrack for a game this year. Looks amazing and the storyline has stuck with me more than any other game.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: I can understand people who hate this game (I wasn’t a fan of Dear Esther at all). But I love wandering around this valley and there were moments in the game that were so beautiful they blew me away.