1 December 2014

She & Him - Classics

She & Him are a project which I have known about for a long time, but I have really stayed away from if I am honest.  This is a project which features alternative Country travelling man M. Ward (one of the contributors to the fine self titled album by Monsters Of Folk (Cleverly Linked Here), together with Zooey Deschanel who is known for her time on films like Elf, Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and the TV show New Girl; as well as the Jazz cabaret act If All The Stars Were Pretty Babies.  They met on the set of a movie of The Go-Getter and were asked by the director to sing a duet for the end of the film; out of that one request we now have three normal studio albums, a Christmas record and now this album of classic tunes covered by the band.  The main reason for staying away from the band is due to my feelings about the members of the band, they are both talents musicians as has been proven before; it was just something about the way people always put one member before the other - not the band themselves, but the popular press.  This really did not sit well with me; the band is a contribution of talents and not the show boat of one of the artists.  So until I found a release that named them as a band and not focusing on one section of the band, I stayed away.  But this is the first release where it has focused on both members; it is an album of covers of popular songs from the past done with the band's own take on the numbers.  I am not expecting radical changes from the source materials, so time to see what is going on here.....

Starting with "Stars Fell On Alabama", You have something that would not sound out of place in a 60's jazz lounge.  Obviously, it is a very stylised cover and it is very pleasant on the ear; but to be honest it is not setting my world a light, but it is a nice song to start the album.  "Oh No, Not My Baby" is a clever re-working of the song originally released by Maxine Brown.  With a 20 piece orchestra, the song really comes to life. It seems to give Ms Deschanel some trouble in places, especially with the lower notes; but overall it is a very accomplished performance.  "It's Not For Me To Say" is much like "Stars Fell On Alabama", a slow love song that will make a lot of people swoon; it comes with a lounge style that is not quite my type of thing.  But the performance is once again of a high quality, so whilst it is not the music I would go for I can see the appeal of it for others.  After this is the cover of a number originally by Dusty Springfield called "Stay Awhile" which is done with a mixture of country, rock & roll and an affection that cannot be understated.  It is also the first song that sounds as if it is being sang in a key that suits Ms Deschanel's vocal range.  M Ward sounds on fire on the guitar and even the saxophone solo cannot derail this number.  Track five is "This Girl's In Love With You" which was originally called "This Guy's In Love With You" and was wrote by Burt Bacharach & Hal David.  It is a song that has been covered by many people over the years; this version is once again gentle cover which is pleasing on the ear whilst not being over dramatic.  But love songs do not need to be over dramatic at times, just pleasant to the listener.  Once more, the overall performance is good, yet I still find myself thinking that there is something missing here.

"Time After Time" is the jazz standard that was introduced by Frank Sinatra, sung as a duet with a gentle bass, light drums and a trumpet solo that will have the fingers clicking straight away.  It is one of the best tracks on the album, everything works a lot better on this number and it just feels so beautiful to these ears.  It feels like it is being performed in the right keys for both vocalists here and that has been rare on this record so far.  "She" is a cover of the Charles Aznavour number which has also been covered by the likes of Elvis Costello; M Ward takes the lead vocals here with Ms Deschanel providing the harmonic backing vocals here.  Musically it is once again beautifully produced and the vocals sound good, but once again it is a number that I am appreciating from afar and not really falling for.  "Teach Me Tonight" is song that has been going since the 1950's, for some reason with it has a romantic and this is a really good cover of this song, it also sounds like it could be a Christmas song as well.  Nothing has really changed from the rest of the album, but once again it just seems to fall into place for this number.  "It's Always You" on the other hand, is just decent song but it does not reach the same sort of emotional level as "Teach Me Tonight".  Also once again Ms Deschanel sounds as if she is not quite getting the power she needs behind some of those notes.

"Unchained Melody" is next song, originally made famous by the Righteous Brothers; it was firstly done by Todd Duncan in 1955 for a film called Unchained.  Since then it has been covered many times over, this version has backing vocals provided by the Chapin Sisters.  This version is treated very carefully, almost with a religious reverence that makes it sound like a solemn hymn to a lost love.  It could also have been used as the backing music to a murder in the TV show Twin Peaks.  It is a very good cover, but just that little bit too revered for it to be stunning.  "I'll Never Be Free" is a polar opposite to "Unchained Melody" and it is also a much better cover.  It has a little spark which was missing from the previous number, it just feels happier and that is something that is a rare commodity on this album.  Penultimate number "Wound You Like To Take A Walk?" was originally from the Broadway musical, Sweet & Low.  As has been the case with most of this album, musically it is well played and the vocals are good, but it is not quite the number for me.  Ending the album is "We'll Meet Again" which is a song that is mostly associated with Vera Lynn, the singer who used to entertain troops during World War II.  Now I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of this number, but doing it in the lounge/jazz style is a really good idea and having the choir of voices helping out with the ending of the song is a move that ends this album on a high.

I would be lying if I said that this was the greatest album I had heard, I would also be lying if I said I would be wanting to hear this album any time soon.  For an album 37 minutes in length, at times it felt a little bit longer.  As I have said throughout this blog, this album is well produced and the vocals are good; but at times it feels as if the songs are being sung in a key that is not suited to Ms Deschanel, she sounds as if she is actually going to hurt her voice in places.  But as I have also stated; whilst I am not the biggest fan of this style of music, I can see that it has it place in the world and I am sure that it will have an audience that fall for it in ways that I just cannot. 

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track - Teach Me Tonight

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the She & Him website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here 

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you 

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