Tuesday, January 06, 2009

She & Him - Volume One (2008)

Semi-famous actress, Zooey Deschanel, has found a second career as a pop-rocking singer-songwriter with a fixation for the 60s. We're not talking about Woodstock, tie-dyed t-shirts, wah-wah pedals, fuzz boxes, or the seventeen minute electric guitar jams that dominated the latter half of the decade. We're talking about music you may hear on an episode of Mad Men: Motown, early Beatles, Phil Spector style girl groups, and Brill Building pop with a little bit of country music thrown into the mix.

Deschanel has teamed with folk-rocker M. Ward and together they made one of the best albums of last year. The two met on the movie set of 2007's The Go-Getter, sang a Richard and Linda Thompson duet for the film, became friends, and discovered they had a lot in common musically. Their one time recording session soon turned into a more lasting partnership and they convened at Ward's studio to record this disc.

While this album may appear to be Deschanel's CD, with just a little help from her friend, it is definitely a true collaboration. She sings almost all of the lead vocals and wrote all but two of the songs for Volume One while Ward sings back up, does the arrangements, and leads the band.

Sixties girl groups are the most obvious influence on Volume One. These are not overly long songs that wear out their welcome. Instead, they are short, radio ready ditties from two young people who have old musical souls and like it that way. Both members of She & Him believe that much of today's music is too loud, and often over-produced, so their hearts steer them toward music that no one hears on the radio anymore.

They cover two old top forty chestnuts, an acoustic, slowed down, and extremely mellow version of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me," and one of my favorite songs from the early Beatles songbook, a fun, countrified take of "I Should Have Known Better." Of Deschanel's originals the marvelously upbeat "This Is Not A Test," "Sweet Darlin," and "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here" all shine brightly. Even if the lyrics are not always uplifting, the music certainly is.

Volume One is a surprisingly excellent musical beginning for the actress and her more experienced producer and bandleader. I'm looking forward to Volume Two.

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