A Fine Line Between Serious and Clever: Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele, May 29 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 13:07

Dent May

The debut album The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele begins with an a cappella number called "Welcome" that starts, "Welcome to my record / Welcome to the show."

The second track features vocals mimicking electronic bleeps before the ukulele actually shows up, and the lyrics begin, "Every Tuesday, and every other Friday or so ... ." The voice is clear, confident, and forward, not at all the tentative instrument one might expect with indie-pop music defined by the miniature guitar.

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The charm is the tricky mix of sincerity, oddity, and humor. Dent May, who hails from Mississippi and wears glasses with huge circle lenses, looks like a nerd but sings and plays like someone who has no doubt that he's the coolest person in the room. And he pulls it off, generating a big buzz with the album (released in February on Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label) and his SXSW appearances in March. He'll perform at RIBCO in a Daytrotter.com show on Friday.

One chorus drips with condescension but also plays like a straightforward plea: "College town boy / Get off your ass and do something / College town boy / How does it feel to be nothing?" It's telling that the song's closing follows that last line with "I wouldn't know."

"Sometimes there isn't that big of a difference" between the serious and the funny, May said in a phone interview this week. "The songs are really sincere, they're very personal, [and] at the same time ... I don't really take things too seriously."

It's not so much finding the right tone but balancing the tones. May acknowledged that the ukulele gives him a novelty appeal, and he doesn't deny that his songs are often arch, but he's also earnest. There's something lovingly ambiguous about the man and his music.

Although May said he's played the ukulele most of his life, it only became part of his musical identity a few years ago. The reasons, he said, were practical.

"I like it because it's small and portable," he said. "I knew I wanted to travel a lot, and it's easy to play, as well. I was tired of lugging around amps and guitars and stuff."

The instrument also spurred him creatively. "I was kind of in a little rut with songwriting," he said. "A lot of times ... you've got to challenge yourself in some way. So I was kind of like, 'I'll just pick up this ukulele.' ...

"It's kind of like the unfamiliarity with the chords ... . Once you've been playing guitar for eight years, you pick up a guitar and you play the same chords. When you pick up a new instrument, you're a little unfamiliar, you're figuring it out. Exploring often opens the floodgates for me."

May isn't defined by his primary instrument, however, and as Dent Sweat he has put together dance tracks. He has since decided to put all his projects under the Dent May banner, and he also said that his next album might surprise his audience.

"It's similar but more diverse instrumentation," he said. "Sort of a little more of an R&B vibe, some more electronics and stuff. ... I'll definitely throw some ukulele on there, for sure, but it won't be the central focus of the record, probably."

And I'm nearly certain that he'll succeed.

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele will perform on Friday, May 29, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). The bill also features Cass McCombs, Mondo Drag, and Id Pyramid. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m., and admission is $6.

To listen to Dent May's Daytrotter session, visit Daytrotter.com/dt/dent-may-and-his-magnificent-ukulele-concert/20030633-3737927.html. For more information on May, visit MySpace.com/dentmay or DentMay.blogspot.com.

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