Having a Ball with a Humble Instrument

The Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp

Fun is at the heart of everything the Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp (GRÜBS, for short) do. They mow through styles and genres, they switch up their instrumentation, they perform breakneck medleys of four, five, or even six songs at a time – all in the name of making high-quality music that affords them an opportunity to play around. “When you play anything on a ukulele it sounds a little bit silly…so that’s part of the playfulness. But our personalities, it turns out, are pretty playful, too,” says GRÜBS member, Anne Kidder. Lucky for us, that joie de vivre and the generosity of spirit with which they share it pours out of every note they play – washing over the listener like a gentle breeze on a warm day.

Magic in the “Air”

On their latest EP, “Air Everywhere,” GRUBS largely avoid the stereotypically tropical associations that some people have with ukulele. In so doing, they bring out unique timbres and taking the instrument to unique and wide-ranging stylistic places. This, Jason Wells-Jensen says, is by design. “One advantage of being a ukulele quartet is that people don’t really have a specific set of expectations about what kind of music you’re going to play and how you’re going to play it…There’s a freedom that comes from no expectations.”

The EP opener, “Garden Wall” draws equal inspiration from bluegrass and Irish folk music, as the soprano ukulele takes on a mandolin-like quality. “Ukulele Time” is a goofy, charming stab at ukulele rap whose success is rooted in its laid-back, jazzy beat, tight harmonies, and self-aware, clever, surprisingly multi-lingual turns of phrase. Blues-tinged closer, “Send ‘em All to Me” – based heavily on the unfortunately newly controversial Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus” – stands out as another highlight. On “Air Everywhere” GRÜBS are having a ton of fun goofing around with one another, but they never stray from the top-notch musicianship that keeps the listener in on the joke. “I think you have to walk the line,” says Sherri Wells-Jensen.

“You can be playful as long as you’re making good music. I’d say we’re playful, but not silly. It’s important to us that we’re making good music first.” Because of that artistic integrity, there’s something enchanting around every corner of “Air Everywhere.” Every track shines new light on the humble ukulele family and shows, to quote “Ukulele Time,” that those “four strings…can do more things than you can dream about.”

Hands – Kate Kamphuis
Hands – Kate Kamphuis

Rustling up some GRÜB(S) Live

If GRÜBS sounds intriguing and you’re interested in seeing what kind of trouble a quartet of talented, free-wheeling ukulelists can get into live, GRÜBS also have a pair of shows coming up in September and October. On Friday, September 28 they will be performing at Owens Community College’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts MainStage Theatre. And, while “Air Everywhere” is available on all streaming platforms and can be bought from CDBaby right now, Bowling Green’s own Grounds for Thought is playing host to the EP’s official launch party on Tuesday, October 15.

In everything they do, GRÜBS demonstrate the magic of diligently pursuing a craft without allowing that commitment to sour into self-seriousness.They’re just a quartet of humble ukulelists with a knowingly pretentious, gratuitous umlaut-pocked name, and they’re here to make sure you take as much joy from listening to their music as they do making it.

Owens CC Concert – September 28 | 7:30PM | Free
Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts Theatre. Owens Community College. Perrysburg.

“Air Everywhere” Launch Party – October 15
7:30PM | Free
Grounds For Thought, 174 Main St. Bowling Green
419-354-3266 | grubsmusic.com

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