Under Review: She & Him – Volume Two

There’s something inherently suspicious about someone who makes their living in one field trying their hand at a career in another.  Whether it’s athletes turned spokespersons, comedians turned politicians or actors turned singers, an eyebrow is instinctively raised when we hear that someone is stepping away from whatever profession made them famous.  It hasn’t always been this way, of course, but years ago, people with multiple talents often used them for the same job.  Gene Kelly, for example, could act, sing and dance, but those could all be used to make great stage shows and movies.  Over the years, though, it seems that the famous people who try to start over as something else do so not because they have the talent to do so, but because they think it might help their résumé, reputation or, in the case of Joaquin Phoenix…okay, bad example.  A better example is Zooey Deschanel, an actress who’s known more for her calculatedly indie image than for actual movies.  Sure, she was most recently in “(500) Days Of Summer” and “The Happening,” but she has somehow become a household name without making a real box office killing.  Perhaps it’s the very fact that she’s not so deep into a movie career that she can afford to spend time on her other bag, She & Him, the duo she formed with M. Ward in 2006.  She & Him’s first album, Volume One, was the musical equivalent of Zooey herself: wide-eyed, a little quirky, but not much substance behind its perfectly thrown-together sound.  Now that M. is back from Monsters Of Folk and Zooey hasn’t got anything else to do, it’s only fitting that there’s a new She & Him album for 2010.

Unlike Volume One, where the focus was placed on the album’s cover versions, the aptly-titled Volume Two puts Zooey’s own songwriting right up front.  In all honesty, the songs are pretty well written considering they were penned by someone who isn’t really a songwriter.  Sure, they’re simple tunes that owe a strong debt to ‘70s pop and light country, but the new batch doesn’t seem amateurish at all.  Opening track “Theives” and “Me And You” are just two of the numerous mid-tempo songs that amble by with an aloof confidence.  Musically, Volume Two is incredibly rich, as Ward ropes in buddies like fellow Monster Of Folk Mike Mogis and DeVotchKa’s Tom Hagerman to provide various instrumentation and arrangement.  “Lingering Still” has a lively Tex-Mex feel, and the piano-led “Home” is a woozy, time-shifting ode to California.  As pleasant as Volume Two is, though, only a few songs really pop without requiring multiple listens.  “In The Sun” features members of Tilly And The Wall in its feel-good chorus, and the version of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ In My Car” (one of two covers on the album) finally finds Ward singing in this project.  Were it not for Ward’s involvement (as well as the help of his bona fide musician friends), She & Him would just seem like a Zooey vanity project.  It still kind of does, anyway, but at least Zooey won’t need to look very far to find music for her upcoming movies.  Volume Two hasn’t really proven that Zooey is completely serious about music, but it has shown that being a singer-songwriter could be a feasible fallback job for her if the making-really-big-eyes-in-movies thing stops paying the rent.

Click HERE to stream Volume Two (via NPR Music)

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~ by E. on March 22, 2010.

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