She & Him, Volume Two

Posted on December 22, 2010 by

Artist: She & Him
Title: Volume 2
Label: Merge 354
Released: March 23, 2010

If you’re not aware of She & Him, the She is part-time actress/part-time singer-songwriter, Zooey Deschanel and the Him is the well-respected M. Ward. Together they make beautiful pop songs.

But for many strange reasons, people won’t accept Zooey Deschanel as a singer-songwriter. Personally, I like her better as a musician than I do an actress. I liked Elvis Presley better as a singer than an actor. Madonna, no doubt she’s better in the music business than in film. I like Tom Waits in both roles. Dean Martin too. The point is, crossing over is not a new concept.

I was waiting in line at the Electric Fetus on Record Store Day. I was listening to my iPod. The customer next to me asked me what I was listening to and I told him, the new She & Him record. He made it clear that he did not like Zooey Deschanel, claiming that she had no talent and got a record deal mainly on her good looks. He had no interest in listening to the record based on that belief. I told him that I hoped he enjoyed his Susan Boyle album.

Get over it people! I can see if you don’t like 70s influenced pop music you can dismiss this as a matter of taste, but to base it on pure jealousy is pretty damned ignorant.

I’ll admit, Zooey doesn’t have the range of a great vocalist, but she works very well within her limits. With writing eleven of the thirteen songs, they do, for the most part, fit within her range. The production work of M. Ward also keeps the listener interested, layering sounds upon sounds with subtle guitar fills, hand claps, bells, chimes, bongos and sweet harmonies.

Right in the middle of the album, the track “Home” opens up with a piano riff, reminiscent of the 70s L.A. singer-songwriter sound. The song then drifts into late 60s Beach Boys territory and than falls comfortably into a little romp. It’s complex in structure but yet it doesn’t sound too busy.

M. Ward’s production should be commended. The sonic roots are obvious and he dresses up some very simple pop songs into elaborate works. “Brand New Shoes” rings of Brazilian pop, with it’s acoustic guitar in the forefront and the cadence of Deschanel’s delivery.

The opening track, “Thieves” riffs on Patsy Cline’s “Strange” but has production bigger than Owen Bradley’s. “In The Sun” is close to a perfect pop song and “Lingering Still” touches more on 60s Countrypolitan than most tracks on the album.

The covers are expertly chosen too. “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” was a hit for Skeeter Davis, keeping that 60s country-pop flair alive. NRBQ’s “Riding In My Car” is a classic song about cars and girls, it could be the lost gem of Brian Wilson.

The album is not perfect, “If You can’t Sleep” shows Zooey’s shortcomings in holding a note in a slow song. “Don’t Look Back” marches along, and I just don’t like marches (unless there’s a brass band funkifying it.). But the great songs outshine many of their charting contemporaries making it one of my favorite albums of 2010.

Watch the video for “In The Sun”

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