The ukulele may have had a small pop renaissance in recent years thanks to high-profile champions like Stephin Merritt and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, but it's still a much-maligned little noisemaker. Modest in size, meek in sound and inextricably linked to Polynesian pig roasts, it can feel like more of a gimmick than a proper instrument. But when wielded properly, the humble ukulele is a powerful tool — its high, muted strums can be as heartbreaking as they are giddy.
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder — still best known for his growly vocals and penchant for scaling lighting rigs — is an unlikely ukulele ambassador, but as a longtime surfer and Maui resident, he's got a certain uke cred. (Vedder is also a staunch populist, and the ukulele, which is relatively easy to play and cheap to buy, is nothing if not the people's guitar). Ukulele Songs is a collection of short and sweet love songs, earnestly sung and delicately strummed. Vedder's voice is surprisingly tender, and his strums are rich and crammed with nuance: By a few tracks in, you'll forget the premise and submit to the rhythm.