In Water on the Road, Brendan Canty's documentary of Eddie Vedder's solo theater shows in Washington, D.C., Vedder explains the challenge he gave himself with the ukulele. It's such a happy little instrument, Vedder says, that he had to see if he could get a sad sound out of it. Ukulele Songs, a collection Vedder's written on the ukulele over 16 years, is the result of Vedder's attempts at that challenge.
And he's successful: There's "Sleeping by Myself," where Vedder laments the end of a relationship ("Now I believe in nothing, not today as I move myself out of your sight"), and "Longing to Belong," an unrequited love ballad with a little help from a cello. Here, Vedder sings, "And when the time is right / I hope that you'll respond / like when the wind is tired / the ocean becomes calm." Each original song (there are several covers) is packed with little lyrical moments like this one that are immediately resonant. With only the ukulele and his voice, Vedder's real talent for writing songs becomes even more obvious.
The contrast between those plinky, tinny strings and Vedder's deep voice tints the ukulele with a darker tone. Vedder is not singing in his typical Pearl Jam fashion; his vocals are restrained and subdued, which infuses the album with an intimacy and warmth that Pearl Jam albums don't have.
Yes, there are a couple of songs that just let the ukulele be its own happy self; even Eddie Vedder can't make it cry for too long.