CD Review of Volume One by She & Him
Recommended if you like
Sid ’n’ Susie, Rosie Thomas,
St. Vincent
She & Him: Volume One

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


oogle the name “Zooey Deschanel” and your first page of results will include no fewer than four fansites, which goes a long way toward explaining why so much Web hype has been devoted to the debut musical effort from an actress you’ve quite possibly never heard of. She’s worked steadily since making her debut in “Mumford” at the end of the 20th century, but most of her films haven’t found much of an audience; if you’ve seen anything she’s done, it’s probably been her turn as the winsomely daffy mallworker who wins Will Ferrell’s heart in “Elf.” That’s okay, though, because “winsomely daffy” pretty much sums up Deschanel’s overall career path/public persona, so if you’ve seen one of her roles, you’ve got the idea, as well as an outline of her appeal: She’s cute, but she seems just loopy enough to maybe consider sleeping with your stupid ass. Combine those two ingredients, and you’ve got catnip for the hipster set – just ask Jenny Lewis.

All of the above has exactly nothing to do with Volume One, but everything to do with why we’re talking about it. Deschanel (backed up and produced here by M. Ward – hence the “Him” part of the equation) is a solid songwriter with a pleasant singing voice and an obvious affection for AM-ruling forebears like Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon, but that describes any number of performers, many of whom are making better music. If her name wasn’t Zooey Deschanel, she’d be doing the Wednesday night club circuit.

This isn’t her fault, of course, and begrudging her the built-in advantage of her stardom would be missing the point. Evaluated strictly on its own merits, Volume One is a perfectly enjoyable, if fairly unremarkable, first album; Deschanel credibly evokes the mellow golden tones of California chanteuses past, Ward sprinkles some of his usual alien retro fairy dust on the arrangements, and some of the tracks – like the sweet-as-syrup opener “Sentimental Heart” and the you’ll-swear-it’s-a-cover “I Was Made for You” – stick around long after they’re finished. As a singer and songwriter, Deschanel comes across as – surprise! – winsomely daffy, the kind of girl who isn’t afraid to pin her heart on her sleeve, even if she knows it’s just going to be broken.

To listeners who weren’t around for the rise of Rita Coolidge or Jennifer Warnes, Deschanel and Ward’s warm-milk pop will probably sound pretty fresh. The fact that it really isn’t – and doesn’t do a particularly remarkable job of adding anything to the genre – makes Volume One a tempting target, but in the same way it’s easy to make fun of a six-year-old wearing his father’s shirt: It’s silly, yes, but it’s also sort of adorable, and it really isn’t hurting anyone. Let ‘em have their fun.

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