Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs

width=300{Available May 31st, 2011 | Stream the entire record over at NPR Music, click here.)

Eddie Vedder follows through after 2 decades of teasing Pearl Jam’s dedicated minions with the folkie side of his musical personality. This affection was officially introduced on VS. with Elderly Woman Behind The Counter and scattered throughout the band’s catalog— though usually reserved for soundtracks & b-sides. Mr. Vedder seems to have waited most of his career for the right timing to follow through on his acoustic muse.  Nothing more here than a baritone voice, a ukulele, cello, and a few guest harmony vocals (Glen Hansard of The Frames/Swell Season, Chan Marshall of Cat Power) strings together a few originals and covers into the un-ironically titled, Ukulele Songs.

Original songs like the single release, Longing to Belong, are as simple as the title, and make for comfortable, unchallenging repeat listens.  Highlights on love lost, found and wondered about like Once in a While, More Than You Know and Goodbye can’t makeup for  a few poor song selection choices though. Vedder’s ‘uke’ version of his band’s 2002 rocking Can’t Keep is one of those poor choices, though hearing it sans band is preferred. It won’t help any doubters giving this a listen for the first time being that it kicks off the record.  One listening should wonder, Why not ‘Jeremy’?  Why not take a horribly memorable Pearl Jam hit song and turn it into something else tolerable?

Strong performances make up for the kickoff, but they include cover choices. Particularly the classic Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris duet, Sleepless Nights (written by Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant).  Vedder calls on Glen Hansard to fulfill Harris’ songbird’s role and it works beautifully if not inferior to Parson & Harris’ version.  Other cover songs don’t work so well at all. Chan Marshall & Vedder’s take on Tonight You Belong to Me is too predictable after having heard this song performed too many times before— and much better (see NRBQ’s version on Grooves in Orbit).

Vedder’s performances are heartfelt here, especially minus the buffoon rock stylings of the Pearl Jam machine, but one can’t listen to Ukulele Songs without thinking of the late, Hawaiian artist, Iz Kamakawiwo’ole.  His command of the ukulele in particularly.  Vedder’s ukulele playing style is a bastardized attempt at traditional Hawaiian folk music. What at once feels like an homage to Hawaiian folk music and sitting on the beach listening to folkie-love lost-love found songs, can easily be offset by Vedder’s signature baritone vocal; and if you’re not a fan of it to begin with, good luck getting through this. The overall problem with Ukulele Songs naked, simple production presentation is that I can’t separate Vedder’s voice from what he’s primarily known for participating in—which is bad, bloated rock n’ roll.

I looked forward to this acoustic release since Vedder and Pearl Jam tickled my folk rock fancies in the early 90s with the potential that ‘Elderly Woman’ presented, as well as hints that Vedder’s soundtrack for Into The Wild suggested at. I still think The King of Constipation Rock and his old Pearl Jam mates have a great folk record in them, but not with a set of immemorable songs like this selection. The Pearl Jam Peasants flock will love this either way because the Shepherd is Vedder, and he can do them no wrong. New fans such as elderly moms and burned out dads will gravitate towards this because it’s unchallenging music, and people like to imagine being on a beach relaxing, not thinking.  For the doubters, the folkie efforts are commendable on Ukulele Songs but there’s not enough here to stay awake through more than a few, yawn-inducing listens.

I’d rather listen to Vedder’s beach buddy, Dennis Rodman, grumble over a ukulele about his personal woes, babes, and emotional misfortunes.


Eddie Vedder - Ukulele SongsAndy Whorehall

9 comments on "Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs"

  1. jojowrinkles on

    All true, but this is the best album he's been a part of since No Code, which I think is the real, obscenely-underrated jewel in the PJ canon. I agree with you, AW, Ukulele Songs is worth a listen or two, but not worth buying. Either way, hats off to NPR for the free listen. Now, let's talk about My Morning Jacket…ouch.

  2. Jojo, still trying to get through the new MMJ too. Yes, to “No Code”. Nothing sits well here after the 6th listen; songs performed with production limitations should at least be memorable. These are dull, flat songs. Save your money, yes.

    • No Code, really? Hmmm… I’m not convinced.

      • I will convince you!

        "No Code." It's the last great record they've made, and arguably the only record they've made worth anyone's time repeatedly to listen to. You can hear the hard work on it. For the most part it's a seamless set of songs till the one long blemish towards the end of the record with "Lukin" through "I'm Open". It's a perfect 9 song record minus those 4 songs.

        Jack Iron's percussion pushed them to work outside of their box at that point. They still had something to artistically prove despite 3 blockbuster records. Vitalogy was a mind-numbing, dare to be punk record that failed, VS. was a bloated classic rock record and "10", should be notated as containing the worst radio rock song ever written on it, "Jeremy". It's worse than "Hotel California" or anything Aerosmith and the Doors has written. In my opinion of course

        "No Code" stands tall. They've never been better than that record.

        What's worse is that they've gone on record in the past claiming it's a release they don't stand by much as a band. Sad. It's the only one that doesn't sound dated in 2011. 'Code' is as close as they got on record to the acoustic meets rock influence & versatility that they, Vedder, so look up to in Neil Young & Crazy Horse. That alone makes it a good, timeless record from an era that typically sounds gross, glossy and dated.

        • Vs. is a classic in my opinion and an important album in my life, sharing good times with friends growing up. Vitalogy is hit or miss for me but still has some cool tunes. No Code for me was the album where I went WTF?

          Maybe I need to take another listen but that's how I felt about it when it came out.

        • gsmellyfarts on

          I don't know, Andy, I really like "Mankind" also… the rest of those last tracks are pretty lacking, though "Around the Bend" is a nice ending to the album. No Code is king to me also and I don't go back to it enough. I have been meaning to make a compilation containing the one or two great songs on all of their other records because I can't get through them anymore.

          "Dated" is a great adjective for Pearl Jam's catalog and I never thought I would ever say that when I was younger…

          I still haven't purchased "Backspacer," should I? Anyone?

  3. I couldn't disagree with you more. Everyone I know who has purchased this album enjoy it and listen to it repeatedly.

    But I think some of the stain in your article comes from someone of great fame playing a uke and bringing it front and center for all to hear.

    • You could be right in some ways, I’ve heard much better attempts at ukulele folk songs by poor, unknown street vagabonds- so yes, the fame thing is part of the problem here, but not the main problem. The songs lack something essential, a better singer and uke playa. ; ) Thanks for readin.

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