I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of Ms. Dechanel’s movies…something I guess I need to rectify soon via my trusty Netflix account…so I came to this record with no expectations (she sang onscreen in the movie Elf and acquitted herself quite well...see here) She is, it turns out, a very fine songwriter (she wrote 9 of the 13 tracks here by herself and co-wrote another) with a lovely, plaintive, achingly honest and soulful voice The bittersweet country tune, “Change is Hard”, my favorite song on the disc, is ample testament to her ability to bring powerful resonance to the table; the same is true for another pure country song, the gently loping and twanging “Got Me”.
Despite dealing with matters of the heart, the songs here are never cloying. The driving pop-rocker “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” (features some great harmonies and guitar work) and the equally up-tempo “This is Not a Test” (which would be a huge hit single in a more fair world) are both gently acerbic but life and love affirming at the same time.
The playing is rock solid all the way through with guitars, pianos, drums, and strings providing tuneful, beefy support without overwhelming the singer.
Deschenel’s voice is sometimes layered to good effect on tunes like the 60’s-style girl group romps of “I Was Made for You” and “Sweet Darlin’” (the latter of which sounds like some great lost Brian Wilson tune that She and Him rediscovered and brought to the 21st century), the peppy backing vocals on “Black Hole”, which somehow manages to be wistful and jaunty at the very time, and the soaring vocals that come in on the back end of the wistful opener “Sentimental Heart”.
The covers here include a grand, stripped down version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (with a beautiful lead vocal by Deschanel and sweet guitar and harmony vocals by Ward), a lilting take on the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” (featuring the duo trading leads over a tasty tropical beat), and the lovely a cappella harmonies on the traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, which closes the disc on a lovely, low-key note.
Volume One is destined to continue to spend lots and lots of time in my music player and I certainly hope that there will be a Volume Two for She & Him in the future.
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Below is a video of She & Him's version of "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (set to clips from old cartoons for some reason.)