mon 20/08/2018

CD: Eddie Vedder - Ukulele Songs | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Eddie Vedder - Ukulele Songs

CD: Eddie Vedder - Ukulele Songs

Pearl Jam frontman downsizes in an unexpected way

It's like grunge never happened: Eddie Vedder takes up the ukulele

The story goes that Eddie Vedder first picked up a ukulele in Hawaii in the mid-Nineties, since when the instrument has become his constant travelling companion and a handy songwriting tool. A whole album's worth of songs written on the funny little stringed thing might sound like he's pushing his luck, but in the event it's an effective way of presenting a simpler, more introspective side of Vedder, a million miles from the roar and bluster of Pearl Jam. Though having said that, it arrives in a sumptuously tooled hardback book package decorated with arty portraits and landscapes, which suggests the project wasn't undertaken all that lightly.

Many of the tunes are love songs, dedicated to Ed's wife, Jill, and their two daughters, though he throws a bit of a curve ball with the opener, "Can't Keep", which first appeared on Pearl Jam's 2002 album Riot Act. Here, Vedder treats it to an energetic, relentless strum, wailing away overhead like a mad busker. This is fairly atypical of the disc as a whole, however, and he soon settles into a quieter groove with the likes of "Sleeping by Myself" (a pretty, gentle pop song), "More Than You Know" (which sounds like an old-fashioned tune from a silent movie) or the lilting, waltz-time "Satellite", where Vedder harmonises with himself over chiming chords.

He rings a few sonic changes by playing the pieces on a selection of ukes, such as Kamaka Tenor, DeVine Tenor and even something called an Ev Electric Uketan, but the songs are still rooted around a cluster of familiar melodic shapes, even if he does essay a blast of Townshendian speed-chording in "You're True". Additional musicians have been kept to a minimum, which makes the addition of Chris Worswick's droning cello on the lovesick "Longing to Belong" feel genuinely startling. Glen Hansard, from The Frames, has been drafted in for a pleasingly heartfelt duet on "Sleepless Nights" (handed down from the Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, Norah Jones and many more), while Chan "Cat Power" Marshall climbs aboard for the naif and child-like "Tonight You Belong to Me".

For a finale, Vedder rumbles out a basso-profundo version of "Dream a Little Dream", sounding not unlike Jeff Bridges doing his raddled old-timer act in Crazy Heart. Obviously you wouldn't want everybody to get rid of their keyboards and Telecasters and take up the ukulele, but for a brief detour into the unexpected, this works very nicely indeed.

Watch Eddie Vedder singing "Longing to Belong"


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