Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Lua – Bright Eyes

In something of a contrast to the last post, today’s is a simple, fragile acoustic song. In fact, when I first heard this I thought it was being played on ukulele.

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My first introduction to this song was via a duet version with Gillian Welch , more specifically this version where Gillian and partner Dave Rawlings joined Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes for an encore in Austin, Texas. That led me back to the original, which is even more sparse – just Conor and an acoustic guitar, capo-ed up high (which might explain why I thought it was a ukulele).

Such treatment clearly suits a song which is not going to make it onto the list of “jolly” and uplifting ukulele songs that seem to form the repertoire of most ukulele groups. Instead this is a song that deals with struggles of depression and addiction. I’ve written before on here of my inclination towards less cheery songs (a quick scan through the list of songsheets I’ve published will confirm that!), and this is just further evidence of that. But for me, a single strummed ukulele is the perfect setting for a song like this.

The song is a relatively simple one – mostly standard chords (with the exception of that Bm9 thrown in towards the end), and benefits from a fairly constant strumming all the way through. Probably best played solo (I think a mass group rendition would somehow lose the sparse fragility of the song), this is one to dig out for those quiet, introspective moments. But enjoy!


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Short Haired Woman Blues – Dave Rawlings Machine

So I’ve posted plenty of songs here from Gillian Welch. And with good reason – in my book she can do no wrong. But until now I haven’t posted anything from fellow partner-in-crime, Dave Rawlings. So ahead of a brand new album from him later this month, I thought it time to right that wrong.

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To be fair, it is somewhat artificial to make this split between Welch and Rawlings. The two have been inseparable in their recording and performing career, and are very much a democratic duo. It’s just that for each recording they have chosen one or other of them to act as the front to the other. True, Welch was four albums in before a Rawlings album appeared. But of late it has been Rawlings who has been more prolific, with the new album, Poor David’s Almanack, being the third in a period when Welch has only fronted one (albeit that was the totally sublime, career highlight that was The Harrow and The Harvest).

Together they plough a very traditionalist furrow, drawing on various roots traditions such as folk, bluegrass, country and old-time music, whilst at the some time having a sound that is all their own, and oddly contemporary. And in many ways the songs could interchange between the two of them. Short Haired Woman Blues, as an example, falls into that classic Welch/Rawlings stock of languid, stretched-out ballads that I just love. For me, these songs could go on forever and never outstay their welcome.

And so to the song sheet. A little more complicated this one, though not excessively so. There’s a batch of chords in there, not all of which are stricty accurate compared to the original, but ones which act as a (to my ears) reasonable sounding translation of the subtleties of the original guitar chords to the ukuele. In particular, that chord labelled and shown as B5 isn’t actually B5, but I think it fits OK into the song at that point. To my mind the song is best played pick (although I’m certainly not attempting to emulate Rawlings wonderful playing!), but it can be strummed as well. Timing can be a little tricky in places, but listen to the original and you’ll get the feel. Note the song sheet is in G, whilst the original is in G#. So capo 1 if you want to play along with the original. Enjoy!


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One Little Song – Gillian Welch

souljourneyLooking back it’s been over 18 months since I posted a Gillian Welch song on here. So it seemed time to rectify that.

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So this morning this little ditty popped up whilst the iPod was playing on shuffle. And I thought, “that’s nice” and “that would work on the ukulele”. So this evening I gave it a try. And I was right – it does work.

This is the third song from 2003’s Soul Journey album that I’ve posted on here (see also Look At Miss Ohio and No One Knows My Name). Which is odd, because as I said previously that album is probably my least favourite of her albums (which doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that Gillian sets the bar *so* high). But in contrast to the fuller band sound of a number of the tracks, One Little Song is stripped back to the very basics – just haunting vocals and picked guitar. It is a brief but not inconsequential tune that is seemingly born of a struggle to write a new tune (Welch sets herself high standards, and has commented that songwriting can be a struggle, something that contributed to the 8 year gap between Soul Journey and it’s follow-up, The Harrow and the Harvest).

And here’s the songsheet. Nothing too complicated as far as the chords are concerned, although there are a number of barre chords in there. I’ve added in an Asus4 for the intro, and you can throw a few of those into the first couple of lines of the verses if you wish, to give it a bit more colour. Oh, and this is definitely one to try picking if you can – its not really a strummer. Enjoy!

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Revelator – Gillian Welch

timerevelatorI warned early on that there was likely to be an abundance of Gillian Welch songs on this site.* And as we haven’t had one for a while it seemed about time for another. Actually, this one was prompted by a comment left by Catherine on a previous post, with a specific request for a songsheet for this song, Revelator. At the time I didn’t have anything, but had looked at it previously and so took that as a prompt to pull something together.

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Revelator is the title track of Gillian’s third album, Time (The Revelator), the album that – after the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack – was my first introduction to Ms. Welch. And it is one of the slow-burning songs of which she is a master (or should that be mistress?!). Whilst the theme of the song is a not always clear, there’s a strong argument for suggesting that it is – in some ways – a retort to the criticisms of inauthenticity that have been levelled at here. Born in New York City and raised in LA, some critics have taken this to mean that the adoption and assimilation of the old-time roots in her music must somehow be fake, is somehow a deception. References to being “the pretender”, “the traitor”, “queen of imitators” could certainly suggest that was on her mind when writing the song, but clearly these are criticisms that she doesn’t accept, the song is a defiant riposte to those criticisms, and good on her for that. For me her music is a thing of sublime beauty, something certainly earthed in a lineage that looks back to those roots, and is totally true to them, but which is still about now, and to which 21st century listeners (myself included) can totally relate to.

As with many (most) of Gillian’s songs, this is performed with just herself and her long-time musical callaborator Dave Rawlings. Two people, two voices, two acoustic guitars (and Rawling’s playing is never less than stunning, incendiary when played live, as these recordings testify – 1, 2), the song is stark, but beautiful for it. A song that wraps you and engulfs you, something to lose yourself into.

And so to the song sheet. As I said earlier, this is something that I pulled together in response to request, and it did prove a little tricky. I’m still not 100% convinced by it (in particular the Am and “Am/C” at the end of the first two lines of the verse), but I think it sounds OK. The D definitely sounds better as the barred D (2225), but will still work with the standard one (2220). Clearly these are just the chords, and I haven’t attempted in any way to transcribed Dave Rawling’s licks and solos, but if you want to have a go at that be my guest. Enjoy!

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* Previous songs published here include April the 14th (Part 1), Look at Miss Ohio, and No One Knows My Name.


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April the 14th (Part 1) – Gillian Welch

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Here’s another from Ms. Welch. I never tire of these songs.

I first came across Gillian via. her involvement in the Coen brothers film, O Brother Where Art Thou. The film, and more particularly the soundtrack album, was my country music epiphany, and from that I’ve gone on to discover and love a whole host of country-related music. But that soundtrack really opened my eye and ears, as I think it did for a lot of others. Gillian was involved in a couple of songs on that record, collaborating with Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris, a combination made in heaven if ever there was one. The soundtrack, masterminded by the ubiquitous T-Bone Burnett, had a particular old-time (the film is set in the 1930s) take on country, and Gillian was custom-made for that job. Despite being born in 1960s New York, and spending much of her life growing up in Los Angeles, her music feels as old as the hills, stripped back, acoustic, shamelessly drawing on the spirit of early 20th century rural American music. As such, her authenticity has been questioned, but in my mind she inhabits the world these songs as fully as anyone. The songs, and the performances (usually with collaborator David Rawlings) ring true, and if you’ve ever seen her in performance you’ll know that these are from the heart.

[To be perfectly honest, that whole emphasis on “authenticity” comes across to me as a narrow and reactionary, almost fascist, view point that fails to recognise the inherent multi-cultural, variety of influences that people come under in their lives, and that regardless of people’s backgrounds these sources can and do connect with people in very real ways. Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor’s book Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music is a good read on this subject – read some of their (now inactive) blog entries here.]

Anyway. This some comes from Gillian’s 3rd album, Time (The Revelator), which was my introduction proper to Gillian’s music. It’s a languid, slow-burning song, befitting it’s subject matter. Focussing on the somewhat disastrours experience of a somewhat down-at-heel “rock and roll band”, those events get put into some kind of context by reference to a series of historical disasters that coincidently all happened on the same day – April 14th. In 1865 the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (the “Great Emancipator”) by John Wilkes Booth, in 1912 the sinking of the Titanic after striking an iceberg, and in 1935 “Black Sunday” – the worst dust bowl storm ever, resulting in the residents of the region fleeing for other areas (many went to California). And if that is not enough, the album also includes a “(Part 2)” in the song Ruination Day, which continues these themes in a similar bleak style. So no, not the cheeriest of songs! But a great one nonetheless.

So here’s the song sheet. Nothing complicated in the basics here – the song itself is sparse, so take this as a starting point and do what you want with it. Enjoy!

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