Be it fate or coincidence, the road that brought actress Zooey Deschanel with musician M. Ward showed that it is possible to interbreed (musically) the two species. Ward, having proven himself as a respected songwriter/guitarist with his own albums Post-War and Hold Time, and Deschanel who manages to burst into song in nearly every film she appears, as in the Will Ferrell comedy “Elf”, are both people who can clearly carry a tune. Their debut album as She & Him, Volume 1 was a veritable chocolate box of tender treats — a little sweet, a little low, with a lotta love.
Volume 2 settles into an even pairing with Volume 1, a mixture of gentle ballads and heartbreak tunes, like “Thieves”, with its 60’s doo-wop n’ strings. Deschanel pining for love lost with Ward providing a suitably sombre backing on guitar. “In The Sun” takes a more straight-forward approach, another break-up song disguised as an upbeat summertime shuffle. “Orpheus melted the heart of Persephone/but I never had yours” Deschanel sings in the sublime but saccharine-loaded “Don’t Look Back”. As the album progresses its hard not to look back and wonder if the rest of the album will be so over-catered and over-arranged. Strings trill and pianos patter while Ward coaxes a bag of jangled notes from his guitar, but with Deschanel and a choir of backing vocalists, the subtleties of any song are lost.
Volume 2 suffers from too much She and not enough Him. Deschanel’s voice, as sweet and wholesome as it is just doesn’t convey moods very well — she could turn a broken hearted plea into a day at the zoo, while Ward’s guitar playing is threaded distinctly through the songs, it’s his gruff vocal presence that is sorely missed. The most satisfying track on the album comes from a cover by way of 70’s American rock band NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car” which finds Ward trading verses with Deschanel. It’s that direct vocal collaboration that gives a proper “She & Him” moment, and it’s the point at which you notice the opportunities missed for more of this interaction.
At 13 songs long, Volume 2 replicates certain styles so convincingly and authentically that it begins to border on parody, albeit parody played exceptionally well with catchy singalong songs in abundance. Both Ward and Deschanel carry an obvious passion for less than contemporary styles, but you wish they’d not be so blatant in the way they go about it. Volume 2 is a well rounded collection of songs, but it doesn’t make enough of a departure from Volume 1 to really raise the bar. For Volume 3, and by all means let there be another, let’s hope they bring the 60’s and 70’s influences with them, but check the obvious homages at the door.