Review: Jake Takes a New Direction on ‘Nashville Sessions’


Jake Shimabukuro

Nashville Sessions (JS Records)

Of course, like everyone else Jake Shimabukuro has relied on acoustic tones and high-fidelity recordings for prior studio albums, like the orchestral accompaniment of 2012’s Grand Ukulele or the sparse solo ukulele work on 2007’s In My Life. But the ukulele powerhouse takes a boldly different approach on his latest album, Nashville Sessions. At his manager’s suggestion, Shimabukuro traveled to Nashville in early in 2016 to hole up in a studio with drummer Evan Hutchings and his regular touring bassist Nolan Verner for six days of jamming, songwriting, and recording. The resulting 11-track album manages to sound like nothing else he’s done before, yet also sounds unmistakably like the boundary-pushing musician who has been a leader of this ukulele movement.

The recording process for Nashville Sessions left behind the acoustic tones sweetened with reverb (sometimes overly so), in favor of the direct sounds of his custom Kamaka’s undersaddle pickup, creating an album that feels and sounds more like a live album than a studio production. This recording approach is similar to one many acoustic guitarists take as they increasingly embrace the ability to record their music the same way that we might hear it in concert: through a pickup and often with tone-coloring effects added.

As his live records attest, Jake hasn’t been shy about using effects, but in these studio sessions expect to hear his deft strumming and fingerpicking—and lightning fast left-hand—shaded with reverb, delay, distortion, and anything else he can think of throwing into the mix. The resulting 11 tracks, created on the fly with his trio, have a more progressive rock flavor than anything we’ve heard from him before.

Like many jam-based recordings, Nashville Sessions has moments of grooving psychedelia, raw shredding, and many dynamic changes. Set over Verner’s repeating bass figure in the eponymous time signature, Jake’s extended solo over a heavy-rocking mid-section of “6/8” takes on a gristly tone, fuzzed out like some Led Zeppelin jam. Nashville Sessions is not all ’70s-style rock-fusion freak-out and pyrotechnics, though. With a minute-long acoustic intro on what sounds like a baritone ukulele, “Galloping Seahorses” comes as a surprise after the tripped out, high-energy “Man of Mud.” Then there is the cascading line of the medium-tempo “Blue Haiku” and spaciousness of “Ballad,” which also features strings by Chris Carmichael.


The approach for Nashville Sessions is a daring one and the resulting album captures the electric energy and spontaneous artistry of Jake’s live performances. Fans hoping to hear Jake’s interpretations of old favorites probably won’t warm up to Nashville Sessions, but for listeners wanting to catch a snapshot of an artist in motion, the record is an exciting new step in Jake’s growth.

And, really, when you get down to this groundbreaking artist’s path, you can expect nothing less than innovation and change.

—Greg Olwell