It’s hard to be somber when you’re strumming a ukulele, even when you’re Eddie Vedder, part-time Pearl Jam frontman and full-time king of pain. Vedder’s second solo release, the joyful and strange “Ukulele Songs,” delivers pretty much what it promises: original songs and covers, played on ukulele and very little else.
Vedder’s gravelly baritone is heavy enough to ground these plucky, gorgeous songs and to ensure that “Ukulele” avoids both Tiny Tim Syndrome and its dreaded, novelty song cousin, Don Ho Disease, focusing instead on the sort of moderately hopeful love songs Vedder’s band usually avoids.
Included are covers of Pearl Jam’s “Can’t Keep” (somehow more thunderous than in its original rock incarnation), “Dream a Little Dream” and “Tonight You Belong to Me,” popularized by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” and featuring Cat Power sitting in for Peters. It’s the weirdest, most wondrous thing here, and that’s saying something.