Every so often a musician comes along who completely reimagines the possibilities of a given instrument: Jimi Hendrix on the electric guitar, Bill Monroe on the mandolin, Miles Davis on the trumpet. Jake Shimabukuro has given the ukulele a new respect altogether: unlike the instruments previously mentioned, the uke has always been considered something of a toy, used by vaudeville-type performers to punctuate comic routines. Not anymore, though. What this fourth-generation Japanese-American musician from Hawaii has done is legitimize his chosen instrument, and several albums into his career, he continues to push it forward. Gently Weeps takes its name from the opening track, a cover of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that emphasizes the song's fluid melody and tender lyricism. When he gets around to the Erroll Garner standard "Misty" and to Chick Corea's "Spain," Shimabukuro, who performs most of the album solo, again wrings melody and harmony lines out of the small stringed instrument that the listener probably never imagined it could deliver. He finds within his axe a range of tones and grooves -- think of how Béla Fleck moved the banjo into jazz and then imagine a ukulele in its place -- and so seamlessly adapts it to any style or song that you might just forget that this instrument isn't supposed to sound cool at all. You might also forget that often only one person is making all of this sound. Alternating stunning original works with covers (not since the aforementioned Hendrix has anyone reworked "The Star-Spangled Banner" so thoroughly), Shimabukuro delivers a listening experience that both delights and surprises. Only toward the end of the disc, where three bonus tracks are tacked on, does Gently Weeps lose its focus. The three numbers -- from films and TV programs, introduce a full band, and, on the final track, "Wish on My Star," a female vocalist -- detract from the album's cohesiveness. (This song, as well as the Corea cover, also appeared on his 2003 Crosscurrent album.) That's not to say Shimabukuro shouldn't continue to expand in those directions, only that these tracks feel out of place and tacked on as afterthoughts here.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin