Jake Shimabukuro Delivers Ukulele Version of Ed Sheeran's 'Shape of You': Premiere

Van Fletcher
Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro considers his new cover of Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" -- premiering below from his upcoming album The Greatest Day -- to be a tip of the hat, or the ukulele, from one loopy guy to another.

The two have never met, but both use looping and sequencing technology as part of their live performances. "He's great," Shimabukuro tells Billboard. "He's such a master at using the looper; I just love watching him and how he creates everything all by himself. It's really phenomenal. I do a lot of looping in my live shows, too, so doing (the song) felt like a kind of nod to him and what he does."

Despite their commonality, Shimabukuro has never met Sheeran, nor has he received any feedback about his version of "Shape of You." "I think it probably just went to his publisher or something," Shimabukuro says. "So many people cover his music I doubt he has time to listen to every cover."

Due out Aug. 31, The Greatest Day also features Shimabukuro treatments of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby, the Zombies' "Time of the Season," Jimi Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9" with Jerry Douglas on dobro and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," as well as six originals. (The vinyl and digital editions also feature bonus tracks.)

"These are all just songs that I've enjoyed listening to or melodies that were very familiar to me," Shimabukuro says. "I've always wanted to record a Jimi Hendrix tune, and 'If 6 Was 9' is my favorite of his, and what you hear on there is one live take, just as it happened."

The Greatest Day was recorded in Nashville with producer R.S. Field, the same scenario as Shimabukuro’s 2016 release Nashville Sessions, and he fleshes the band out again with the addition of guitarist Dave Preston as well as strings, horns and keyboards to the arrangements.

"I wouldn't say it was easy, but it definitely was fun," Shimabukuro notes. "It still has that same energy of recoding live in the studio with a rhythm section but later on layering other parts. That really helped to bring a lot of color and framed the ukulele in a very nice way." Shimabukuro and company also prepared for The Greatest Day a bit differently than its predecessor. "This time I made some charts before we went into the studio," he says. "On Nashville Sessions we went in with nothing and just wanted to be spontaneous and see what happened. This we came in with charts; We weren't glued to the charts, but it gave us kind of a guide and then we could segue into something if it felt right. But we always had the charts to come back to."

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