Jake Shimabukuro emerged onto the international pop stage from decidedly humble beginnings. While he made several albums for Sony Japan during the early phase of his career, he remained virtually unknown as far as the rest of the world was concerned until a YouTube posting of him playing his ukelele version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” racked up its 12 million views, making him an immediate internet sensation in the process.
That alone was enough to make him a bankable commodity, and after several subsequent albums, Shimabukuro is now known as a standard bearer as far as all things ukelele are concerned. His initial claim to fame lies in his reinterpretations of popular songs as performed on ukelele, and he certainly did well in that regard. However with The Greatest Day, he makes a decided attempt to elevate his efforts, burying himself in lavish arrangements that suggest a cast of thousands is also involved. While he still has a penchant for falling back on familiar standards reinterpreted in remarkable ways — in this case, an understated take on the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” an extended version of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9,” a subdued stab at Leonard Cohen’s all too frequently covered “Hallelujah,” and a needless rehash of “Eleanor Rigby” — he also opts for far more original material than ever before, reaffirming his desire for a more progressive posture at the same time. However, as often is the case with mostly instrumental music, the melodies sometimes seem incidental, no matter how lush the arrangements. Consequently, even though Shimabukuro seems intent on impressing us with his prowess, the results often resemble an upgraded form of elevator music, competently performed but often overextended without offering any real incentive to partake in repeated listens.
Three bonus live tracks heighten the energy, and one, a rugged version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” features guest vocals. However a return to his old standby “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” seems superfluous until he escalates the intensity with an overlong coda. It’s as if he wants to remind us that that is where he started and the thing he’ll always be known for, even if all else should fail.