The final entry (finally!) in my dozen favourite albums of the decade is also the one with the shortest running time on the list, She and Him’s Volume One (2008). ‘She’ is Hollywood actor Zooey Deschanel and ‘Him’ is singer-songwriter and musician M. Ward. The pair met on the set of a film called The Go-Getter where they recorded a version of Richard & Linda Thompson’s When I Get to the Border for its soundtrack. The pair got on well and Ward discovered that Deschanel had been writing songs for years, but had never pursued a musical career. She sent him demos of these songs and Ward was sufficiently impressed to offer to produce and play on the album. Over the years, many actors have added a musical side to their thespian talents and, more often than not, the resulting efforts have left much to be desired. For example, 2008 also brought another pairing of an indie musician with a Hollywood starlet. Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio played and produced Scarlett Johansson’s (mostly) covers album of songs by Tom Waits, Anywhere I Lay My Head. Unfortunately, Johansson’s project was let down by her weak voice
In contrast, Deschanel’s voice is not bad and suits her songs quite well. Her songs are standard pop fare with simple lyrics and catchy melodies. They encompass a number of genres from folk to country to girl groups of the sixties. Ward has done a great job fitting each song to a particular genre and adds strings, steel guitar and other instruments where appropriate. The album sounds like it was recorded in the sixties and Ward has used multi-tracking on Deschanel’s voice to add some nice ooh-la-las to the background. Most of these elements come together in the wall of sound that surrounds Sweet Darlin’. It’s got the Spector drum sound, strings, oohs and aahs, and even steel guitar and all in less than three minutes. In fact, the total running time of the album is less than forty minutes long and is all the better for it. The album’s ten originals are padded out with three covers: an unnecessary take on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and passable versions of The Beatles’ I Should Have Known Better and Smokey Robinson’s You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me. The Beatles also recorded the Smokey Robinson tune and She and Him may be drawing on that version as they use the same title that the Fab Four gave the song, You Really Got a Hold on Me. I’ve included the original versions of those two songs below as well as four other covers from She and Him that appear on various soundtracks and compilations. The duo have already finished recording Volume Two and it will be available at the end of March in the States and early April on this side of the pond. I’m looking forward to it!