She & Him – Volume One

She & Him
Volume One

Quick. Think of anyone that’s made a career in Hollywood that crossed over into the realm of pop music with any success. The list of miserable failures is staggering; from Bruce Willis and Don Johnson to Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall (Chunky A, anyone?) It’s embarrassing. I suppose one could make the case for Rick Springfield, but, well, OK, you can‘t really make a case for him other than people bought his album unlike The Return of Bruno. Maybe the tides are beginning to turn just a bit. She & Him is the product of folk troubadour M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel and the results are a beautiful product.

Their first recorded output together, Volume One is a collection of songs penned by Deschanel with the role of Ward being rather subdued. It isn’t until the middle of “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”, the second track, where the familiar strains of his wandering old timey guitar noodling make an appearance. And it isn’t until “Change Is Hard,” the fourth track, that he jumps in singing. He’s more responsible for not only the arrangements of the songs but for dragging them out of Deschanel to begin with. And thank goodness for that.

Deschanel’s voice is at times reminiscent of Neko Case and Lurleen Lumpkin from The Simpson’s, which is to say strong and captivating. (Beverly D’Angelo provided the voice for Lurleen if you want to get specific.) The combination of her voice and lyrics make for a soulful country album without the requisite “alt” tag before it.
Where M. Ward’s songbook draws from the days of listening in on folk stations late at night from 3 states over, with his assistance Deschanel has made an album that takes you back to the days of the Carter Family or AM radio on a Sunday morning. It is at times spirited and fun but turn sad and lonesome just as quick.

As on Ward‘s recent album, Post War, drummer Rachel Blumberg delivers when needed. She gives “I Was Made For You” an intro right out of any great doo wop or girl group song before Deschanel takes over. It brings to mind simpler times of big bouffants, dance contests, and drive-in’s. The phrasing and word choice is impeccable. Like an actor who studies the mind set of a character before delving in to the role, she has done her homework in how to craft a song, what words to choose, and how to deliver once the subject is set. And like most classic country albums there are a few choice covers. The standout being “You Really Got A Hold On Me” which works best when the laconic back up vocals of Ward come in.

It should be mentioned that for this album to be the success it is it had to be released on an independent label. With anyone else backing it, a Warner or Capitol for example, the marketing push would have been astronomical, the expectations too high. (Major labels never seem to learn from past mistakes.) Sure, the woman can sing. But, technically, so can a lot of actresses. Fortunately not many of them can write a song steeped in musical history. Volume One certainly merit’s a follow up and we shall hope the fat suit gimmick and dabbles in bad blues rock stay in Hollywood.