Wednesday, March 12, 2008

She & Him Folk Around on "Volume One"

Imagine that indie legend Cat Power bought a time machine, traveled back to the 1960’s, and recorded her very first album there. This contemporary singer/songwriter feeling fused with the vintage folk sound of the original Woodstock age would most likely sound exactly like “Volume One,” the debut record of She & Him. Being released on March 18th through Merge Records, She & Him is the brainchild of one man band M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel (best known for her performances on the television series Weeds, the Sci-Fi channel mini-series Tin Man, and in films such as Elf, The Good Girl, and the charmingly irresistible Flakes). On their official Myspace page, the duo describes their premiere album as “a love letter to the musicians who inspired it,” and the hippie era throwback and nostalgia it ensues is remarkably undeniable.

It all started with a collaboration for the soundtrack of one of Deschanel’s films. The director of 2007’s “The Go-Getter” brought the two together to record a cover of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “When I Get To The Border.” Both incredibly impressed and intrigued with one another’s sounds, this duet sparked conversation about further recording sessions. When Deschanel ultimately admitted to having recorded a huge series of self written demos on her personal computer, Ward insisted on hearing them. The combination of Deschanel’s soothing yet melodically haunting voice and Ward’s phenomenal arrangements and instrument playing, turned these demos into the skeleton of “Volume One.”

The album opens with “Sentimental Heart,” a song that vividly breathes summer air about being internally lost. It’s staccato and catchy tune makes it a track that can easily be seen as playing in the background of a cheesy California beach movie during the post-heartbreak contemplation scene. Next comes the first single “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” the most mainstream song on the record by far. That being said, it is anything but conventional “mainstream,” but rather a very cute, Tegan & Sara-esque song that has the potential to receive heavy rotation on an alternative country radio station, but that’s the extent of it. The disc ultimately progresses to “I Was Made For You,” which sounds like a folk interpretation of Brian Hyland’s 1960 classic “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”

Unlike the rest of the record that serves as a tribute to the 60’s, two tracks in the middle backtrack even further in time. Continuing her metamorphosis into a female Johnny Cash, Deschanel’s vocals soar on “Change Is Hard,” a slow yet catchy track that combines both old country with the Doris Day teenie bopper sound of the 50’s. Next, the song, “Take It Back,” goes back even further and sounds exactly like it was recorded by a young Judy Garland back when she was still a radio star - incorporating everything from the light piano and violin in the background, to the lovesick damsel-in-distress message of the song.

The song that truly shines above all others, however, is the flawlessly exquisite version of Motown icons The Miracles’ “You Really Gotta Hold On Me.” Originally released in 1962, the song takes on a whole new attitude with She & Him’s rendition of this R&B/Soul landmark track. Deschanel utilizes her vocals with such conviction over Ward’s stunning arrangement, that it is difficult to even remember the original song, especially considering it fits in so perfectly with the rest of the record.

Giving homage to music of the past, along with a passion to keep this genre alive, She & Him have truly created a modern masterpiece. “Volume One” is not the typical album one would expect to be made in 2008. That, however, may be the formula for creating the best folk album of the year.


Like it? Buy it here

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