BY NICOLAS GRIZZLE | FROM THE WINTER 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Harmonics shine like twinkling stars on a moonless night on Vejr, the debut album from 4stringboy. The album’s 11 tracks are generously sprinkled with the ringing, bell-like tones within the ukulele-led compositions, with some melodies made entirely from them. The instrumental album features ukulele in moody arrangements that include strings, piano, bass, and synthesizer. It’s a new way of hearing an instrument often known to be cheery and bright, and that’s just what the composer had in mind.
“I’m trying to push away the assumptions of what people believe a ukulele sounds like, and to include it in other genres that it’s not known for,” says Sammy Turton, the solo instrumentalist and uke teacher also known as 4stringboy.
Turton, who is from England, has lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the past five years. “One big similarity between the two nations is the miserable weather,” he says, noting that Vejr (pronounced “h-ver”), means “weather” in Danish. “So, even though the titles are in English, I wanted the album to reflect part of my Danish life, too.”
The opening track, “Sunrise,” opens with meditative arpeggios and the occasional strummed accent. A couple riffs keep the short song interesting before the harmonics fade it out. The next track, “Breeze,” is where things really pick up. There’s plucking, strumming, and harmonics in the melody, which unravels like an ancient tale whispered from the wind.
These songs are wonderful to listen to with eyes closed. They’re visually evocative, each like a sonic painting. In the song “Frost,” for example, I see snowflakes landing gently on a near-frozen stream, existing for just a second before melting to become one with the water. A pulse of harmonics holds a medium-fast tempo while the melody dances around it, and the slightly barbed 4/4 rhythm hooks the ears and refuses to let go.
The moodiness continues in the ethereal breathy synth of “Overcast,” the wandering searching of “Fog,” and the busy, ominous fingerpicking of “Storm.” All the songs clock in at under five minutes and mostly follow the verse-chorus-bridge format of modern pop songs. “Rain” has an undeniable hook that could fit in a pop song sung by a strong female voice like Ariana Grande, while “Sunshine” is a decidedly happy fingerpicked number that would feel right at home on a James Taylor or John Denver playlist.
Vejr, which was released in September as a digital download on 4stringboy.com (Turton says he may plan a physical release down the road), includes all 11 songs plus another 11 tracks of solo ukulele versions. The naked versions are equally lovely, and also highlight Turton’s superb playing.
The songs are split between baritone and high-G ukulele. “I’m a Flight ukulele endorsed artist, so everything I play is a Flight uke,” says Turton. “On the baritone tracks (‘Sunrise,’ ‘Breeze,’ ‘Overcast,’ ‘Sunshine’) it’s a Flight Aurora, the other tracks are split between the Flight Fireball—my main axe—and the Flight A10 FM.
“The two tenors are both high G, but I use lots of different tunings throughout the tracks. For example, ‘Rain’ is tuned F# B E A and ‘Storm’ is G B E A. Even the baritone tracks have different tunings: ‘Overcast’ is D G Bb E and ‘Sunshine’ is C G B E.” Turton uses Ukelogic strings on his ukes.
Turton’s first instrument was bass, which he started playing over 20 years ago. He picked up the ukulele nine years ago (and had not played guitar before that), an impressive feat when one considers the level of technique and quality of playing and songwriting on this album.