As I contemplated adding some Tom Waits to my cover repertoire, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to try a traditional tune that shares a name with the Waits song I had in mind: “The Last Rose of Summer.” It’s a really beautiful song, and there are dozens of interesting versions of it — the Celtic Woman one is the most common on the internet recently, but I much prefer either old-school Clannad or (best of all, if you ask me) Nina Simone. In fact, it was a chance iPod shuffle through the Nina Simone version that reminded me of both the traditional tune and the Tom Waits song. I decided to try it, but I didn’t want to use the big, bad schmaltz, and I didn’t want to break out the fiddles to create a string arrangement (lazy, lazy me), so I fell back on my old weirdo arrangement friend, the ukulele.
I really must come up with a name for that ukulele. It seems to need a name, now.
The funny thing about the version I came up with is that I ended up doing an absurdly cheery ukulele accompaniment for lyrics that, to be perfectly honest, are horribly, horribly morbid (and yet somehow weirdly uplifting, in a way that seems peculiar to Irish music). I like the effect — it’s sort of sweet and creepy and chipper at the same time.