Over their 20-year-career the members of Pearl Jam have amassed quite the catalog of side projects from Brad, Mad Season, Three Fish and most recently Tres Mts, but there seemed to be always something missing.
It wasn’t until 2007 when Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder released his first album outside of the group. Vedder wrote the original music for the Sean Penn-directed blockbuster film “Into the Wild.” The album sold very well earning Vedder a Grammy nomination and a Golden Globe win for the single, “Guaranteed.”
Fast forward four years and Vedder is going solo again, this time with his name front and center (well technically to the right on the CD cover) on Ukulele Songs released on Pearl Jam’s label Monkeywrench Records.
Not since Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” has there been so much excitement about the ukulele. What was rumored to be started as a joke, Ukulele Songs is a 16-song release filled with short bursts of love, longing and hope. For the most part all the songs are Vedder on vocals with his various ukuleles (Kamaka Tenor; Kamaka 6 string; Ceniza 5 string; Martin Tenor; DeVine Tenor; Earnest Tele; and the EV Electric Uketar.) However he does get some vocal assistance from Chan Marshall of Cat Power on “Tonight You Belong to Me” (written by Billy Rose and Lee David (1926) and Glen Hansard of The Swell Season and the Frames on “Sleepless Nights” (written by Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant (1960). And musically Chris Worswick adds a beautiful cello on the album’s first single “Longing to Belong.”
When you make an album with just a ukulele a singer doesn’t have any traditional instruments to hide behind so you better known how to write great songs and have a great voice to pull it off. Vedder does just that. As David Letterman said when Vedder played “Late Night” last month “If I had a voice like that you could all kiss my ass.”
Right away you can’t help but to be pulled into Ukulele Songs with the tracks “Sleeping by Myself,” “Without You,” “Broken Heart,” and “Satellite.” Vedder, who is known for his serious nature in his music, has a soaring openness about himself in these songs. This could be in part to his family life with his beautiful wife and two kids, all of which seem to inspire the talented singer.
Along with his originals, a couple instrumentals and a reworking of the Pearl Jam song “Can’t Keep,” Vedder throws in several covers including “More Than You Know” (written by Billy Rose, Edward Eliscu and Vincent Youmans (1929); “Once in Awhile” (written by Bud Green and Michael Edwards (1937); and “Dream a Little Dream” (written by Fabian Andre, Gus Kahn and Wilbur Schwandt (1930).
Like many, going into Ukulele Songs I didn’t know what to expect but coming out after a few spins, these songs are beautifully intimate, touching and heartfelt. Vedder has never been shy about his heart on his sleeve, even if in thinly veiled invitations of song. On Ukulele songs he marries the strings of his heart with his ukulele perfectly.