I first met Heather Marie Ellison, the singer/songwriter known as Uni and her Ukelele, at an intermission for a show I was stage managing in San Francisco in 2006. The theatre company had been playing her debut album My Favorite Letter is U as house music at my gentle insistence, it having originally been made known to me via the recommendation of my dearest friend from film school.
She arrived rolling behind her a day-glow pink suitcase with a rainbow travel strap, rose petal ukelele tucked beneath her the crook of her right arm. Dressed in an outfit not too dissimilar to the one you see above, she appeared like a bolt of rainbow piercing the gunmetal grey and charcoal intersection of Van Ness and Geary outside. She played a handful of selections from her latest release during intermission as a guest performer, while audience members sat nonplused, unsure of what to make of the stories woven by her and her ukelele, tales of heartbreak and loneliness spangled in bright plucks of string and bubblegum pink.
I introduced myself shortly after she returned her gear to her traveling suitcase and proposed that maybe I could draw a poster for her someday. "Sure," she said with a smile.
I revisited her first album this spring on the eve of its 10th anniversary, each song ringing with the same clarity of vision and spirit that had originally captured my interest a decade ago. My Favorite Letter is U is a resoundingly satisfying record, and a deeply personal piece of art that addresses the dissatisfaction with growing old and out of love, old wounds that refuse to heal and the indomitable spirit that keeps the world bright while everything around you seems to be getting darker with every broken high heel. "Tell me that my world is pink, not blue," Ellison pleads on the final song, its namesake a coda that reverberates with each repeat listen and speaks to the healing power of music itself.
Layered with ukelele, guitar, kazoo, xylophone, melodica and fuzzy keyboards - the eclectic and vibrant songs collected on this release are a sly veneer to the deeper messages of melancholy that run as major themes beneath the entire album. An aural companion to the city of San Francisco, a luminescent port of call that seems to draw people in like moths looking for renewing flame, My Favorite Letter is U is enriched by a cast of characters that pass by each other like cable cars: shitty ex-boyfriends, charming but hollow lovers, burnouts, dreamers & frauds, each with a story that blooms for a short while in fifteen finely-crafted indie pop gems.
I can still remember Uni rolling her suitcase away from me after shaking her willow wisp of a hand, thanking her for performing that night ten summers ago. White go-go boot heels clicking on pecan terra cotta tile, she firmly pushed against the bronze-plated door of the lobby of the Cadillac Building, only to brave another perpetual evening drizzle of rain on her shoulders. Indomitably, she hoofed up a 30-degree incline towards a bus stop off of Geary Blvd., to wait for her ride through the arteries of city back and home again - home again to write more songs & dream of brighter colors. She dreams for me when I listen to her music now, and I long to stave away waking up every time.
My Favorite Letter is U is available to stream for subscribers of Spotify & iHeartRadio. It is available for purchase through Amazon, iTunes and unimusic.us.