Prime Cuts: Oh No Not My Baby, This Girl's in Love with You, Stars Fell on Alabama
Not everyone can do justice to the American songbook. Though by default and protocol every artist these days is churning out cover albums left, right and center, not every one of them works. Some are just embarrassingly bad, bereft of any understanding of how to carry these eternal and immortal tunes with new and yet reverent nuances. She and Him is an exception. Zooey Deschanel, one half of this soft rock duo, has a voice made for these tunes. Slathered in the sepia tone sound of the bygone past, one can discern within her voice the naivety of a young Dusty Springfield, the sly and quirky twang of a Patsy Cline, and the slurred feral purrs of a Marilyn Monroe. Thus, listening to this record is like taking a journey back in time where music was unadulterated by tweaking of auto-voicing. Even M. Ward's guitar playing is retro-sounding reminiscing of those of Les Paul and Chet Atkins in the days of yore.
"Classics" is the duo debut major label release, after a series of four independent releases. This new record finds She and Him revisiting a staccato of timeless covers that range from 1930's "Would You Like to Take a Walk with Me" to 1974's "She." In between these two temporal gatekeepers, She and Him have covered songs from artists such as Dusty Springfield, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Guy Lombardo, Johnny Mathis and others. Having previously dabble in covers such as John Lennon's "I Should Have Known Better" and "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," it seems that a covers album is long overdue. Although Deschanel is a prominent actress in her own rights and M. Ward a notable folk artist, they have chosen not to slap their names together as advertising cues. Rather, taking on a generic name such as She and Him, they wanted their music to speak to themselves. And with "Classics," the music speaks volumes.
Opening up the proceedings is a languid version of Guy Lombardo's "Stars Fell on Alabama." Featuring a 20-piece orchestra, we feel like time has domino back to the 50s and 60s where Deschanel brings out a romantic aura that is so beguiling. While Cher has had an abrasive rendition and Linda Ronstadt a bombastic version of Dusty Springfield's "Oh No Not My Baby," no one captures the naivety of the song quite as well as Deschanel. Incorporating deliberately the hissing sound of a vinyl spinning and the plaintive sound of the trumpet, "This Girl's in Love with You" brings out the lonesome august of an unrequited love. And you swear it is Patsy Cline redivivus when Deschanel puts her vocals to the string laden 60s-sounding "It's Not for Me to Stay."
The two trade vocals on the album's oldest song "Would You Like to Take a Walk." One listen to this song reminds us of how pop music has evolved over the years. Gone these days are the coy, loveliness, vibrato and mystery of romance that's non-existent today. M. Ward himself does take the lead in a few tracks. Sounding like a younger version of Barry Manilow, he does a dreamy version of "She" that's definitely a highlight. After four albums, "Classics" is the most satisfying record in the She and Him canon. This album establishes for the duo that they truly are a band suspended in time; one that is able to weave contemporary into these immortal tunes again.