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Songs from a Random House: Rockin' Ukulele

Cover image: <i>gListen</i>
Cover image: gListen
Alan Drogin (left) and Steven Swartz at NPR's studio.
Julia Peck, NPR /
Alan Drogin (left) and Steven Swartz at NPR's studio.

Ukuleles don't always get their fair measure of respect. But that doesn't stop the New York-based band Songs from a Random House from using two ukuleles to create an unconventional pop-music sound.

The band was founded in the mid-1980s by singer/songwriter Steven Swartz and Alan Drogin. Swartz plays the baritone ukulele -- deepest in register of all the ukuleles, which Swartz notes "is very much like saying it's the tallest dwarf."

Drogin's specialty is the soprano version of the instrument. Since 1997 they've partnered with violist Gregor Kitzis, string bassist Jason DiMatteo, and drummer John Bollinger since 1997. The group makes eclectic music that departs from the Hawaiian sound typically associated with ukuleles, lending the instrument more gravitas. There's even room for "Taste of Crow," which Swartz describes as an "angry ukulele song."

The band's most recent album, gListen, was released last year. They will perform in the near future at Tonic in NYC (June 8) at Baltimore's 14 Karat Cabaret (June 10) and at The Fire in Philadelphia (July 9). Members of Songs from a Random House recently joined Scott Simon for a chat and live performance.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.