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Band has a blast with ukulele, tuba, harmonies


This article was published December 20, 2012 at 3:40 a.m.

— The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra is something of a novelty, for sure, with no guitar in the Illinois seven-piece band. But there are plenty of other, even nonukulele instruments in a group that delivers almost 100 percent original music.

David King is The Duke of Uke - and plays ukulele, of course, and sings. His Novelty Orchestra consists of Claire Cannon on vocals, percussion, violin and alto sax; Lorene Anderson on vocals and tuba; Anna Hochhalter on vocals and tenor sax; David Garcia on percussion; Rebecca Burlingame on drums; and Sarah Cramer on bass.

“We’ve had this lineup together for three years,” says Cannon, spokesman for the band. “David has been doing his thing for a dozen years, and I’ve been in it for six and a half years, while Lorene has been a member for a year longer than me. We all kindof slowly came together and started playing together.”

Based in Urbana-Champaign - or Champaign-Urbana, depending on whom you ask, the group has a couple of Arkansas shows under its collective belts, having played before at Stickyz Rock ’n’ Roll Chicken Shack in Little Rock and Maxine’sin Hot Springs, where this weekend’s show will be held. (The group will also perform Sunday night in Fayetteville, at Rogue Pizza, 402 Dickson St.)

Though Urbana-Champaign is well known as the home of the University of Illinois, the group does not necessarily have ties to theuniversity, Cannon explains.

“The Duke has lived here since he was a child,” she says, “and Sarah was born here. Rebecca has been here for 15 years, and of course some of us came here for college, but none of us are graduates of the university.”

As for the use of the word “novelty” in the band’s name, Cannon says she feels it is appropriate.

“I think its meaning is thatof being special or unique, something you won’t come across in day-to-day life. It may be misleading to some people, but we’re fine with it,” she notes.

The Duke does the initial songwriting, and then takes the songs to the others, who work up music and arrangements.

“It can be a slow process, since we strive for unanimous decision-making,” Cannon says. “So we sometimes deal with tension before there’s agreement, but then we emerge with this beautiful finished product after the collaborative process.”

The group features the four-part harmony of The Duke, Cannon, Anderson and Hochhalter, with a sound that has variously been described as a blend of pop, funk, gospel and Motown. Cannon says when she, Anderson and Hochhalter are featured, there is a definite Motown vibe.

“And we definitely dabble at the choreography part ofMotown, also,” Cannon says with a laugh. “A lot of it is improvised, but we have our moves and grooves. Even Lorene, who is wearing her rather large tuba or sometimes a sousaphone, is moving and swaying quite nicely. When we’re singing with the Duke, it’s definitely some fine four-part harmonies.”

King put out his own selftitled debut album in 2005, and he and his orchestra have released two studio albums: This Way Up in 2010 and April’s Empire, earlier this year. There’s also been a live album, but it was released before Garcia joined the group.

Comparisons of the sound of the Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra have been made with the likes of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tom Waits, Amy Winehouse, The B-52s and Captain Beefheart (and some will be reminded of Little Rock-born Dan Hicks, who first recorded in the 1970s in San Francisco with the Hot Licks).

The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra

Opening act: Loves It

8 p.m. Saturday, Maxine’s,

700 Central Ave., Hot


Admission: $5 advance,

$7 day of show

(501) 321-0909

Weekend, Pages 34 on 12/20/2012

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