Ah, the celebrity-musician crossover collaboration, that cultural phenomenon that has seen us sway to the Cockney tones of Phil Daniels and Blur more times than we’d care to remember. And who could forget Corey Feldman and Rick Springfield?
Times, however, are a-changin’, and such cross-discipline teamwork is now taken far more seriously. See Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, for instance: despite the latter’s musical credibility seemingly consisting of little more than a presentable singing voice, The Break Up Album garnered generally positive reviews.
She & Him – M Ward and Zooey Deschanel – are a breed apart again: Ward, a peer of the likes of Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket and Beth Orton, is of sufficient standing to count himself a part of bona fide folk supergroup Monsters Of Folk; Deschanel, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, is arguably these days known as much for her musical output as for her reputation as a top indie actress.
Volume Two, as the title suggests, represents the pair’s second full-length collaboration, the first (entitled Volume One, funnily enough) growing from Ward’s curiosity about Deschanel’s home demos, an email exchange and, ultimately, time in the recording studio. Given the praise that met that album’s release, have they hit the ground running with its successor?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, Volume Two gets off to a blistering start with Thieves, a ’50s sounding ballad tightly packed with sufficient songwriting authenticity to get the most sceptical of toes tapping. Deschanel’s voice is, if not technically amazing, entirely enchanting, setting the tone for the remainder of a beguiling long player.
Lead single In The Sun, moreover, proudly exhibits all the warm vibes required of a summer smash hit, its irresistible piano lick and delightful call-and-response chorus suggesting Deschanel’s song crafting is every bit as established as her acting credentials. A favourite in the waiting if ever there was one.
And from there the ear is kept hooked: Don’t Look Back reveals a stab at Beach Boys territory every bit as successful as it deserves to be; Ridin’ In My Car, an NRBQ cover, faithfully channels ’70s beach pop harmonics; Lingering Still reins affairs in somewhat before emerging into a glorious early rock ‘n’ roll chorus the likes of which Neil Sedaka would be proud to call his own.
Thereafter, Me And You marks the album’s first real slow burner with aplomb, its heartfelt refrain revealing a tender touch. Gonna Get Along Without You Now, a Skeeter Davis cover, betrays not only caring respect for classic tracks but also a sharp and informed appreciation for the selection of such dusty gems, which makes for a terrific listening experience.
The pair then see fit to endow a further six songs, highlights including I’m Gonna Make It Better’s genuine country balladeering, Over It Over Again’s musical-style harmonies and turns of phrase (“Why do I always wanna sock it to ya hard?”) and the adroitly constructed children’s rhyme and fond harmonies of Brand New Shoes.
Deschanel, clearly, is an exquisite talent, and has a rare knack for treating yesteryear’s musical principles with dexterity, and, crucially, without descending into ham-fisted revivalism. Ably coaxed on and assembled by Ward – whose input ought not to be overlooked – Volume Two is an outstanding collection of tracks worthy of any discerning listener’s undivided attention.