Nov 132014

These days, it seems that every band or artist puts out tracks before new albums come out, and it’s easy to understand why – at $1.29 on iTunes, an individual song purchase costs more than it would in relation to the album, or, if you get the tracks by pre-ordering, you’re locked in for the whole shebang. Most, however, will release a track or two in anticipation. That, apparently, is not She & Him‘s style. In the last few weeks, the easy-listening power-duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have already released four tracks (out of thirteen total) from their upcoming collection of standards, Classics, which comes out on December 2.

Most recently, the two released their cover of “Stars Fell on Alabama.” It’s a hard one to attribute, having been written in 1934 and covered by over 100 artists, but the track follows a delightfully early-’50s path, reminiscent of both Patti Page’s recording and the duet between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Deschanel wisely avoids mimicking Fitzgerald or Page – though, could anybody really mimic Ella Fitzgerald? – while still managing to bring elements of both of their styles into her own vocals. Ward’s gruffness offers up a good stand-in for Satchmo’s own indescribable voice, but takes much more of a back seat to Deschanel’s singing than Armstrong did to Fitzgerald’s. The track forgoes the instrumentals that introduce the older recordings, and it’s sped up by comparison, but nothing gets lost in translation. It’s a quick one, weighing in at under two and a half minutes, but there’s a beauty in its brevity, and a welcome addition to the few releases that came before it.

She & Him – Stars Fell on Alabama (Patti Page Cover)

The duo’s take on Carole King‘s “Oh No Not My Baby” hews more closely to King’s vocals and Maxine Brown’s backing instrumentation, rather than, say, the versions popularized by Cher and Rod Stewart. Faithful without feeling uninspired, “Oh No Not My Baby” falls firmly within the canon of beautifully done recordings of King’s expansive catalog.

She & Him – Oh No Not My Baby (Carole King Cover)

On Sinatra‘s “Time After Time, which also gives us a vocal duet between Ward and Deschanel, the two show us perhaps what makes their approaches to all of these songs so successful – they take the later standards of the ’60s and bring a crooner-ish velvet to them, while taking the more “classic” standards of the ’30s and ’40s and applying a mid-century lounge aesthetic. The opening, just a tapping of a high hat and thrumming bass, feels more like we’re about to be launched into Peggy Lee singing “Fever,” and it’s a vibe that lasts all through the song and balances against the still Sinatra-esque vocals fantastically.

She & Him – Time After Time (Frank Sinatra Cover)

Their cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Stay Awhile,” which was the first track put out from Classics, takes a cheery ’60s pop ditty and slows it down while retaining all the things that make the subgenre so charming – the oohs in the backing vocals, the claps, the lilting chorus. The cover feels like a sanitized Best Coast track, but Ward and Deschanel somehow manage to make that seem like praise.

She & Him – Stay Awhile (Dusty Springfield Cover)

All told, while the vintage-striving concept of the album might betray the duo’s reputation for twee indie-pop, the songs themselves are expertly and unselfconsciously done. Standards albums are a dime a dozen, and Ward and Deschanel go far above and beyond the generic adaptivity that most of them are plagued by. It’s a lofty aspiration for a cover album to aim for, but Classics may well live up to its name.

Check out more from She & Him at their website, Facebook, and Twitter. Classics comes out December 2, 2014.

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