Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ukulele Songs

Eddie Vedder doing a ukulele solo album reminds me of Bruce Springsteen doing the Seeger Sessions. You don't know what to make of it at first, but once you've heard the music, you realize it wasn't a bad idea after all. In fact, Eddie had been toying with the ukulele for over a decade now, so this album can be considered a long time coming. The bare-bones nature of these tender songs allow you to focus on the little nuances of the instrument, the chord changes, the finger-picking, the strumming.

It's a short album and it's full of short songs. There's no point in making them lengthy anyway; the uke is a restrictive instrument, and though you can do some magical things on it, it sounds to me Eddie wasn't going for flashiness. His intention was to strip the song to its most basic, and for the listener to really focus on the melody. Now obviously the uke achieves a certain kind of light-hearted sound the acoustic guitar can't, and more importantly there's this innocence, almost child-like quality of it. Thus these songs are crafted in a way that are only special to the uke, and wouldn't sound nice on a guitar. In this case there are two words that comes to mind when I listen; campfire and lullaby (also Hawaii and beach).

Pearl Jam's Can't Keep opens things up. In terms of strumming, it's one of the more aggressive songs on the album. It's followed by a couple of sad tunes, Sleeping By Myself, Goodbye, Broken Heart -- the uke conveys loneliness like no other instrument, even more so combined with Eddie's heartfelt voice. The delightful More Than You Know sounds like a ballad from forty years ago. Satellite was written from the perspective of Damien Echol's wife (West Memphis Three), which makes it even more heartbreaking: "Don't you worry/I believe your story/You were put away for something you didn't do".

The single Longing To Belong has a cello that makes it heavier, but in a good way. I really like You're True, just the perfect marriage of music and words; the strumming intro brings me back to Springsteen's acoustic Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?. I'd like to think that Light Today, the least complicated track on the album, is about preparing to go out and surf the ocean, as you can hear the gentles waves at the background; there's just something calming about it. There are guest singers as well; Irishman Glen Hansard on Sleepless Nights, and Cat Power on the standard Tonight You Belong To Me, and both do justice to the standards. And then there are throwaway songs as well; like the eight-second Hey Fahkuh and the instrumental Waving Palms. I'm also not feeling the last one; a cover of Dream A Little Dream, in which Eddie attempts it in baritone, kinda like Johnny Cash.

I can't really compare this record to his first solo one (Into The Wild) cause they're totally different. Though I can say this one has a more timeless feel to it. It's at best, a well-above-average album, and I have a feeling it'll age pretty well. Start your summer with this. Like Bruce and Neil and Bob, Eddie is another songwriter that has my utmost respect. Just the pure honesty and passion he puts into his craft. Great songs stay written, and sung. One thing's for certain; I'm gonna get me a ukulele very soon.

P.S. Once again, a big thank you to 10c for providing me a digital download (album & songbook), while I'm still waiting for the physical copies.