CD Review: Volume 1, She and Him

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It’s no secret that actors haven’t had the greatest track record concerning their attempts to break into the music industry. Remember Russell Crowe’s band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, for example? Exactly. The musical efforts of other pretty faces haven’t fared much better, usually because, a.) they aren’t anywhere near convincing in their supposed passion for music, or b.) the product itself is just…well…crap. There are, however, a few pleasantly surprising exceptions to the thespian curse. She & Him, the pairing of actress Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Elf) and indie folk favorite M. Ward, is one of these.

The two met while working on a song for the soundtrack to one of Deschanel’s movies, The Go-Getter. As their friendship grew, Deschanel revealed that she had been recording home demos of her own material for quite some time. Though initially shy about others hearing her work, she eventually gave into Ward’s encouragement and shared them with him. Impressed with the quality of her songwriting, Ward suggested a collaboration to formally record the songs and give the songs the audience they deserved.

It’s immediately clear upon listening to their album, Volume One, that whatever insecurities Deschanel might have had about her ventures into the music world were unfounded. Her voice sparkles over this collection of instantly classic songs, and leaves the listener with no doubts about her massive talent. Ward, already an indie darling known for his delicate, yet emotionally powerful folk, is the perfect musical partner for Deschanel. He is able to arrange the songs in such a way that Deschanel is always supported, but never overpowered or drowned out by superfluous production. As a result, Volume One is a lush, haunting throwback to the early ‘60s, with hints of old country, pop, and classic girl groups.

The first single, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is a bouncy, sweetly innocent plea to the boy who just doesn’t get how simple love can be. The Phil Spector-inspired beats and instrumentation coupled with the smooth oooo la, la, las on “Sweet Darlin’” are unmistakably reminiscent of girl groups like The Ronettes and The Crystals. Deschanel’s most compelling performance is on the country-tinged “Change is Hard.” A comforting aural arm around the shoulders, she sings directly to every broken heart within weeping distance. “I was never/ no I was never/ no I was never enough/ But I can try/ I can try to toughen up/ I listened when they told me/ if he burns you let him go/ Change is hard/ I should know,” she sings with equal parts regret and determination. Sure to be a pleasant listen any time of year, Volume One is supremely enjoyable in the current summer setting—the crisp, bright jangle of Ward’s George Harrison-influenced guitar on the easy-going “This Is Not A Test” is especially suited for warm, breezy evenings. The three covers on the album, “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” compliment Deschanel’s originals with a charming, gentle vocal approach. With a style that classic, she knows she doesn’t need to make any drastic changes to what comes naturally to her to appeal to music listeners.

What Deschanel and Ward have achieved with Volume One is nothing short of extraordinary. Listeners can forget about the track advance button for this album—every song offers something special and instantly unforgettable, sure to be surpassed only by being performed in a live setting. Madison residents are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to experience just that. This Friday, She & Him will present their body of work at The Barrymore. Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond opens the show at 8:00 pm.

-Shelley Peckham