When James Hill hits the stage, he completely pulverizes preconceptions about the ukulele, which is often associated with stout guys in Hawaiian shirts playing breezy tunes about waves and sunsets.
The 42-year-old Nova Scotia-based musician uses the four-string instrument on material ranging from Americana originals (Hill also sings) to reimagined covers of tunes, by among others, Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”), Jimi Hendrix (“Voodoo Chile”), Led Zeppelin (“Kashmir”) and Coldplay (“Viva La Vida”).
“People are surprised by how versatile the ukulele is,” said Hill in a cellphone interview during a flight layover in Toronto.
Hill performs Sunday, May 7, at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Nags Head as part of the Bryan Cultural Series.
The musician, who’s recorded a half-dozen albums and has played shows on five continents, took up the ukulele when he was 8 years old.
He’s a respected teacher and author of instruction books.
Hill, who travels with tenor and baritone ukuleles, has a sound rooted in bluegrass and Appalachian accented by elements of rock, jazz and old-timey country.
“The tunings on the ukuleles are different,” he explains. “The baritone actually sounds more like a guitar.”
Inspired by fellow Canadian singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, Hill’s original tunes include the country ballad “If Wishes Were Horses” and the upbeat “Promenade.”
“They (the originals) tend to be more intimate,” said Hill. “The audience is surprised by the poetry.”
For the Outer Banks gig, the singer-songwriter, who, judging by his YouTube videos, is an engaging performer, promises “a solid night with a few delightful surprises.”
“I’ll try to keep it lively and interactive,” he added.
When: 4 p.m.
Where: St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 4212 S. Virginia Dare Trail, milepost 13, Nags Head
Release of ‘Ambient Music’ singles
Dan Martier, the versatile and dynamic drummer, singer-songwriter and spiritual force, has branched out yet again, this time composing “ambient music.”
The genre, also known as “new age,” is mostly electronic and instrumental and best described as quiet, reflective and unobtrusive.
“It’s sort of medicine for people in a loud world,” said Martier, 62. “For me, it’s been a journey inward.”
The Southern Shores-based musician, who plays in a half-dozen bands on the Outer Banks and in Hampton Roads (including TR3 led by the Dave Matthews Band’s lead guitarist Tim Reynolds and the duo Birddog with his wife, singer-songwriter-guitarist Laura Martier), has released five singles in the last few months.
Martier, who moved to the Outer Banks in 1989, creates the music using a synthesizer and a computer.
“I put on headphones and start finding sounds,” he said of the process.
Available on all the major music platforms (iTunes, Spotify, bandcamp, etc.), the releases include “One of Us,” “New Moment,” “Out of the Forest,” “Tree Intentions” and “Wind Dancer Dreams.”
Martier said although the pieces are similar, each has “its own personality.”
“I feel like there’s an internal message.”
And what’s brought him the most satisfaction about the new adventure?
“People come up to me and say how the music has relaxed them in stressful situations at the office or at home,” he said.
Martier plans to release more music this year.
Jon Stickley Trio
The Asheville-based progressive-bluegrass band makes their Outer Banks debut at Hi-Vibe Holistics Listening Room (formerly the Pit) in Kill Devil Hills.
They’re on the road promoting their fifth full-length album, “Meantime’s Up,” a 15-song collection of instrumental tunes.
The Trio includes Jon Stickley on guitar, Lyndsay Pruett on fiddle and Hunter Deacon on percussion.
Though grounded firmly in bluegrass in tone, speed, timing, interplay and soloing, the group taps other styles — rock, Celtic and jazz, among them — for their sound.
“There’s a lot of improvisation,” said Stickley, 41, a veteran of several Asheville bluegrass bands. “We try not to play songs the same way twice.”
Without a bassist, a staple in bluegrass, Pruett and Deacon provide bottom-end on fiddle and drums.
On “Meantime’s Up,” the three stellar players are locked in on tracks that include the U2-ish “Riders of the Night Sky” and “Future Ghost,” which brings to mind the acoustic, exotic side of Led Zeppelin.
Another standout is “Death by Rainbow,” which Stickley describes as an “acrobatic fiddle tune.”
For the performance in Kill Devil Hills, the group will play many of the tunes on the new album, plus some older material and a couple of bluegrass standards by Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs.
“We have something unique to offer,” he said. “People often say ‘that doesn’t sound like bluegrass.’”
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Vibe Holistics Listening Room, 1209 S. Croatan Hwy., milepost 9, Kill Devil Hills
Tickets: eventbrite.com or at the door