First Listen: Eddie Vedder’s ‘Ukulele Songs’

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Eddie Vedder. Photo by Danny Clink

Eddie Vedder’s second solo record, Ukulele Songs, is definitely an album tailored toward people who buy their Jack Johnson albums at Starbucks. But don’t let that keep you away from this record because it also carries plenty of redeeming qualities for more serious music fans who care about the lyrics and content of a song, as opposed to just wanting something to play on  the iPod for background music.

I recently spent some quality time with the album, which will be released on Pearl Jam’s Monkeywrench Records label May 31, and here are my initial thoughts on Ukulele Songs.

  • Most of the songs on the album are either about about heartbreak, being in love or losing love. And the record’s title says it all because for the most part the album is quite literally just Eddie Vedder and ukulele. The single, “Longing to Belong,” is one of the few songs with additional instrumentation.
  • The duet with Cat Power on “Tonight You Belong to Me,” from The Jerk, is adorably beautiful. The song is one of the standout tracks on the album and it’s made even better with “Dream A Little Dream,” the song that follows the duet and is the record’s closing number. The song transitions so well out of the duet that you expect Cat Power to jump in for her part at any time.
  • Very few of the songs seem like they would work in  the Pearl Jam catalog. The exception being album opener “Can’t Keep,” of course since it is a Pearl Jam song. Vedder’s solo take on “Can’t Keep” for this album will sound familiar to anyone who has heard the Live At Benaroya Hall record.
  • “Sleepless Nights” is the other duet on the record and it features Glen Hasnard from The Frames and The Swell Season. It’s another song about longing for love and the two sing together with Hasnard’s voice sounding as lost and sad as Vedder’s deep vocals. The song sounds like a downer, but it really is quite beautiful.

Overall the album isn’t something I would recommend for the casual Pearl Jam fan. The diehards have likely already bought the album, but for those who are only into PJ for the soaring Mike McCready solos and growling Eddie Vedder angst and emotion this isn’t a record for you.

As a pretty big Pearl Jam fan myself I didn’t expect to enjoy the album that much but I was pleasantly surprised. The songs are beautiful because of their simplicity (there isn’t much complexity that can be delivered with just a ukulele) and it shows a very soft and genuine side of Eddie Vedder. That said, this isn’t a record that is likely to get repeated spins on my stereo. It’s more of an album for long strolls on the beach and deep introspective thinking than it is an album I’ll return to often to get my Pearl Jam fix.

 

 

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.