dent may and his magnificent ukulele [2009]

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
28 February 2009

“I think I’m gonna like this”, I said to my friend, five seconds into Dent May’s first song.

And how could you not like a man throwing himself and his ukulele full-throttle into a show, from the very first song? Or the guitarist and bassist, two white guys, singing doo-wop-style falsetto backup vocals? (Well, I guess some people could not like that…)

There’s something incredibly pure about a song that begins with a solo ukulele – clear, satisfying chords strummed with confident vigor. I have to admit that I was actually disappointed when the rest of the instruments joined in. Perhaps it would have been too simple, but Dent May’s voice and his ukulele alone could have made for a great show.

You don’t have to look further than May’s song titles to notice that he lives and breathes academia. From “College Town Boy” to “(I fell in love) At the Academic Conference, May is clearly entrenched in the campus life.

And, thankfully, he’s learned something in all of his years of schooling, ’cause he can be a damn clever songwriter, when he wants to be, with the aforementioned “Academic Conference” and the ode to a tennis star “God Loves You, Michael Chang”. On the other hand, he can also get lazy and decide that “summer” rhymes beautifully with “bummer”. Yeah.

Perhaps that is what prevents me from fully embracing May’s music – it’s perhaps just a bit too cute. The Stephen Merritt style vocals certainly carry with them a mature tone, but the music and the lyrics are often times just too whimsical and childlike.

All that said, when May is at his best, as with the crowd favorites “You Can’t Force a Dance Party” and (the Prince cover) “When You Were Mine”, it’s hard not to be swept up in his playful charm.