I have long been of the opinion that a great song is best heard in a stripped down, acoustic setting. If a song can be played on an acoustic guitar and you love it as much as an auto-tuned, 1,001 strings version, it's probably a great song. I don't think it matters if it is a prog-rock epic by Rush or a Howard Jones synth-pop song. If you can play it on an acoustic guitar and it has great lyrics and you think "whoa" when you hear it, then it's a pretty well-written song. Remember the first time you heard "Layla" unplugged? That's the kind of feeling I mean.
It's always a great encore when someone like Richard Thompson brings out a "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and you think, "What the heck was that?" Then you think about the song and realize, I guess that was good song in the first place. I imagine that the Brill Building songwriters had those types of moments all of the time. Can you imagine Neil Diamond playing "I'm a Believer" for the first time on an acoustic guitar? Someone had to say to him, "Neil, Neil, that's what we're here for. Do that again"
Bright Littlefield has merged those two concepts together on their new release called "Treatment Bound." It is a ukulele tribute to the Replacements and the songs of Paul Westerberg.
First and foremost, this is clearly a novelty record that after a play or two becomes less of a chuckle and more of a true listening experience. Paul Westerberg's songs were always funny. Whether it was subject matter like Tommy getting his tonsils out or wearing a lampshade at a party or being a waitress in the sky, Westerberg could turn a lyric and make you laugh. On the other hand, he wrote equally of loneliness and alienation that made him sentimental without ever being schmaltzy. Westerberg was a punk with a heart of gold.
The ukulele is a funny instrument. Outside of Hawaii, the uke is seemingly reserved for encores or ladies with tiny dogs in purses or guys like Tiny Tim. Yet somehow Tom Littlefield and Jonathan Bright have steered clear of both the tiny dogs and Tiny Tim and found the humor in Westerberg's music that somehow seems like it was made for the treatment. Hence the title.
Bright Littlefield are clearly in on their own joke but the songs are played with both attention to detail and loving care. While "Treatment Bound" makes me want to crack out my old Twin Tone vinyl, it also makes me want to hear what next these guys have up their sleeves. Hopefully it's not a Chihuahua. I'm going two thumbs way, way up to Replacement fans for "Treatment Bound." I guess you can't spell punk without, at least, a little bit of uke.