In recent years the ukulele has become increasingly prominent in my life as a music teacher and workshop organiser, so it was with a degree of keen anticipation that I opened Phil Doleman’s first full studio album, Skin & Bones. He may be unknown to many folk fans, but he looms large in the ukulele world with his infectious enthusiasm for old-timey blues, classic 1920s jug band and ragtime. For many this album will be instructional – how to present well-known songs, suited to the instrument, without the bland relentless 3-chord strumming that gives the ukulele a bad press. If used well, it can be both rhythmic and melodic, as demonstrated here in accomplished finger picking that creates variety and a degree of light and shade. In the ukulele world few can get anywhere near the giddy heights of technical brilliance achieved by, for example, James Hill and Jake Shimabukuro; but Phil Dolman shows what can be achieved with intelligence and diligence.
Phil’s competent playing extends to guitar, banjo, bass, harmonica and nose flute, though he’s also joined here by five other musicians and his very own Beehive Ukulele Club who sing heartily on ‘Diddie Wa Diddie’. My favourite track is a quite sophisticated arrangement of ‘You May Leave’ on which, surprisingly, he manages vocally to sound very much like Ry Cooder. The final track, recorded on a wax cylinder, is an opportunity for him to tip his hat to the first generation that created the music he evidently loves.
‘You May Leave (But This’ll Bring You Back)’ – live: