So, I’ve been MIA for about six months. The intricacies of keeping a blog updated while still putting my focus towards my theatre studies as well as my radio show, caused my cerebral cortex to run away and hide. But it seems to have found itself and brought the muse and with it. No, I normally don’t make resolutions but given that it’s a new year, I’m going to have another kick at the can at this thingy. Hopefully it will daily, if not weekly. Trying for evergreen status here. Now, on with the ceremony:
What happens when a lovely indie folk-pop duo featuring a “manic pixie dream girl” and an old timey-wimey young blues guitarist leave their small-time label for a major record deal? The answer is an album of modern jazz standards, with a slightly old-school simplistic instrumentation and cutesy vocals courtesy of a giggle-crazy lady who lives with three men on TV. Yes, She & Him’s latest record is “Classics”. For all of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s sensibilities – artistic and otherwise – the album works quite well. Deschanel doesn’t have the silkiness of Frank Sinatra or the raw tenacity of a Janis Joplin (though Zooey was my first choice to play her in the upcoming movie on her life, before Amy Adams signed on), yet her slightly off-kilter voice combined with Ward’s subtle guitar riffs and Jim Keltner’s soft brush-strokes on the drums, gives the sound an extra kick, synthesizing the 1930’s with the millennial generation.
Another thing I enjoyed about this record was they did not engage in singing the same old songs (eg. Moon River, Fly Me To The Moon) that are on so many classical albums done by a variety of crooners (see Michael Buble). Rather, they pull other well-known songs from a variety of sources including Carole King , Sammy Cahn, Dusty Springfield, and Aretha Franklin. Through their voices, we visit the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s and hear the evolution of jazz music through the big band era, club scene and more contemporary era.
While Deschanel does the majority of the singing, M. Ward pops up from time to time with backup tracks, even taking the lead on She, the album’s seventh track. Both decent singers in their own right, Time After Time – originally written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1947 – really showcases the power of their two voices in tandem, initiating quite a powerful yet lovely and joyful reverb.
While the record has decent qualities, it was a bit of a risky move. Risky in the fact that it was almost too safe. It is their fifth album and so far the only not to chart in the U.S. (though it did place 77 in Australia). By comparison, the first albums were nos 8, 1, 2, 2 respectively on the U.S Indie Chart; 71, 6, 12, 15 on the Billboard 200, and Volume 2, Volume 3, and A Very She & Him Christmas all placed at number one on the US Folk Charts. Then again, why not make a classics album? Ward and Deschanel have a young fan base – both separately and together – and if nothing else this album will give their millennial listeners a chance to hear music from another era. So they deserve points for that. Plus, they have Trombone Shorty on three tracks. More props there. So while I don’t dislike this album (those who know me, are aware of my slight crush on Zooey), I still prefer a song like “In The Sun”.
Their music videos are still stylin’!
Overall grade 7/10
“Classics” was released on December 2, 2014 by Columbia Records.