I’m not sure how long they’ve actually been playing together but Folk Uke has been on my radar since 2005 when they released their first CD – just called Folk Uke – and it generated some significant airplay on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio program. The duo of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson blended their voices so simply and so beautifully, you’d swear they were sisters (I have heard Cathy singing with her real sisters and that sounds pretty great, too).
Although they’re not siblings, both Cathy and Amy do come from musical families. Cathy is one of several musically talented children of old friend Arlo Guthrie (and grandchildren of Woody Guthrie) and Amy’s dad is Willie Nelson. Both fathers have contributed some back-up playing to both Folk Uke CDs.
Folk Uke’s style is seemingly simple -- mostly built around their voices which harmonize and intertwine so closely it’s hard to really tell who’s who, and their ukuleles (with Amy also playing guitar). Most of the back-up arrangements are low-key keeping most of the attention most of the time on Cathy and Amy. But they simply ooze charm throughout most of the set, whether singing sweet love songs Harry Nilsson’s “He Needs Me” and “Reincarnation” or put-downs and break-up songs like “My Little Singer,” “Quattro Momento” and “Filthy Floors.”
Cathy and Amy also show they can be artistically fearless by taking a bitterly ironic approach – which risks misinterpretation – to the subject of domestic violence in “I Miss My Boyfriend.” While they sing from the perspective of a woman missing her abusive boyfriend, Shooter Jennings speaks from jail as the violent boyfriend.
Folk Uke’s harmonies and stripped down approach is a delight to hear.
BTW, along with Cathy and Amy, some other progeny of musical parents contributed to this album. Cathy’s brother, Abe Guthrie, played piano and bass and co-produced the sessions; Shooter Jennings, who plays the role of the incarcerated boyfriend in “I Miss My Boyfriend,” is Waylon Jennings’ son; Casey Kristofferson, who co-wrote “Blessed and Cursed” is the daughter of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge; and Gabriel Rhodes, who was one of the album’s recording engineers, is the son of Kimmie Rhodes.