By Melanie Walker
There aren't many people bold enough to release an album that's composed of just their voice and a ukulele, but Eddie Vedder did just that with his recent solo album, simply titled, Ukulele Songs. Vedder's follow-up to his Into the Wild film soundtrack finds him tracing the footsteps of other legendary songwriters who are fans of the small, four-stringed instrument such as George Harrison and most notably, one of his heroes, Pete Townsend. It's an album that showcases his voice beautifully and reveals a side of the songwriter not often seen in his work with Pearl Jam. On Ukulele Songs, Vedder sheds the bitter, confrontational front and unveils a more romantic side of himself.
So, why did he choose the ukulele for this album? It does seem that he went a bit beyond his comfort zone choosing such an unassuming instrument. For a front man who helped shape the grunge movement of the 90's, it's a bit of a stretch. You can't really shred on a ukulele, can you? But once you learn more about Vedder, the choice of this accompaniment seems to make more sense.
Vedder had a rough childhood and found solace not only in music such as The Doors, The Who and Neil Young, but in surfing as well. Now, I know Seattle's not really well known for its waves, but Vedder's residence while growing up actually alternated between Chicago and San Diego, (San Diego being one of the great surf meccas of California). The ukulele is synonymous with Hawaiian culture and surfing. So, it's fitting that he chose this instrument. It represents him as an individual and also strips down the musical arrangement to better showcase his weathered, deep baritone.
He opens to album fittingly, strumming furiously along to a Pearl Jam cover, '02's "Can't Keep". But soon after, his rocker-self takes a back seat on the other fifteen tracks where he reveals that he's a shameless romantic. Ukulele Songs removes Eddie the activist, the raging ball-of-fire rock star. It's more about him and his role as a husband and father. Vedder sings of the difficulties and joys of relationships, of fatherhood, and of love in general. He does a few duets that are worthy of mention: Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, joins him for a campy, but sweet cover of "Tonight You Belong to Me"; Swell Season and Frames front-man Glen Hansard joins him for a lovelorn duet of the Bryant & Bryant classic "Sleepless Nights".
Quite frankly, I think Eddie Vedder would sound great singing most anything. He's got one of those rare voices that, can not only carry a tune, but also has enough character to make any song his own. Whether or not you're a fan of Pearl Jam's music, it's undeniable that Eddie Vedder has become one of the most recognized and respected songwriters today, and Ukulele Songs captures him in top-form.