Robyn Harris | s/t (s/r)

Up-and-coming Nashville singer-songwriter Robyn Harris challenges the convention of the ukulele on her debut self-titled EP.

When people think of the ukulele used in popular music, it’s usually as a novelty instrument for upbeat, sunny-sounding songs (whether or not actual lyrical content matches up). It’s not difficult to see this, especially when some of the biggest artists using the instrument over the past decade have been Train, Jason Mraz, Never Shout Never, and the like. Normally, songs that are more emotionally weighty are associated with piano and guitar; however, up-and-coming Nashville-based singer-songwriter Robyn Harris challenges the convention of the ukulele on her debut self-titled EP.

Beginning with opening track “Doctor,” Harris sings with a melancholy air of unrequited love. While the ukulele and glockenspiel may initially lead one to believe the song will have an upbeat shift, when Harris’s vocals start, she carries an emotional weight that says this may not be a silly song. This is further solidified when the band kicks in. What makes the arrangement interesting, though, is that instead of the ukulele fading into the background, the instrumentation feels like it’s there to let Harris’s ukulele and haunting vocals shine.

The following two tracks, “Out of Sight” and “Window,” are upbeat songs; however, they both still highlight Harris’s use of the ukulele with the full band working their arrangements around it. The songwriting is solid enough that the use of the ukulele doesn’t come off as novelty, but as the instrument she’s connected with the most for expression. In these two upbeat songs, Harris’s vocal prowess is also shown off, and we find that one of the strongest elements in her songwriting is her harmony composition. In both songs, her vocals abilities take after both Florence + The Machine and Sucre, but with a personality that feels far more approachable and grounded. Meanwhile, the one-woman harmonies and vocal layering come off reminiscent of early Eisley, The Bridges, and especially The Chordettes.

“Be Again” ends the EP on a gentle, bittersweet note with what sounds like quiet whimsical electronics buried in the recording (hint: use headphones), simple percussions, and an accompanying cello. Harris’s layered harmonies and vocal background embellishments create a pleasant lullaby effect that ends the EP a little bit too soon. However, this only leaves the listener with an interest of wanting to hear more, and that is one of the best things one can hope to achieve with a debut EP. B+ | Michael Cheng

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