Review: She & Him – ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’

averysheandhimchristmasIt’s here, it’s here, the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the January sales, you’ve had those. In January. We’re talking about Christmas, of course, that popular chocolate-based winter festival.

“So what does Christmas have to do with music?” you ask. “I just slammed the door on those goddam carol singers,” you unnecessarily add. Well, this: She & Him have a Christmas album out.

Yes, She of the sparkly doe eyes and melodious contralto voice, and Him with the sunglasses and the jazzy, understated guitar sounds. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are back, not with Volume Three of their musical exploits, but a sweet, subtle sort of festive interlude.

Alright, Christmas albums are hardly the place where musicians are going to push the envelope. Still, we can but thank Mighty Cthulu, Tentacle Lord of Christmas Cheer that She & Him’s effort has turned out so well. So put away your feathery quills and lyric analyses, music scholars. No original material here. She & Him are playing holiday requests of the old favourites. Songs made famous by Elvis, The Beach Boys, Judy Garland and Brenda Lee are taken back to their most charming and uncomplicated form, stripped down to soft, purring guitar and voice.

The Christmas Waltz‘ starts this Very She & Him Christmas as it means to go on, with a gentle, sincere arrangement with only Spanish guitar and a trickling of piano keys to accompany Deschanel. Her voice hasn’t a huge range, but it is bright and serene and full of warmth, and that suits this material just fine.

Everything right about this album sounds so intimate, with just a touch of nostalgia. You can half see yourself watching the snow fall from inside a toasty warm pub on Christmas Eve, or curling up on the backseat as a small child, going home in the late afternoon darkness. Even ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas‘ and ‘Blue Christmas‘, professing misery and loneliness, feel that little bit warmer for the She & Him treatment.

They skate along at a pleasantly lazy pace for the most part, making these seasonal standards all their own. M. Ward keeps his guitar parts simple, plucking and whirring away with tremolo-shimmer chords and a clean, jazz-standard tone. On ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas‘ he coaxes chugs and sputters from his electric while his nylon strings tippy-toe and glide across just the right kind of notes we wanted to hear coming up the drive to see a holly wreath on the door.

Some livelier numbers don’t quite work; ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree‘ forgets the all-important rockin’, and ‘Sleigh Ride‘ disappoints in its failure to swing. It’s not for lack of instruments; session men Jim Keltner and Pierre de Reeder are on hand for various percussion duties. The sound that catches the wistful Christmas spirit so well with ‘Silver Bells‘ suddenly peters out, and there seems to be no reason for it.

You don’t have to look much further than the front cover to see there’s a distinctly 1950s sensibility to all this upbeat Christmas-ness. You can almost see She & Him perched on Val Doonican stools, flashing Buddy Holly smiles and matching reindeer jumpers, gazing at each other like Les Paul and Mary Ford as they duet their way through ‘Sleigh Ride’. They very clearly want to evoke this sort of Christmas TV Special atmosphere, but M. Ward’s playing style is simply too subdued on these numbers to approach anything like the joyful runaway tempos laid down by the likes of Brenda Lee, or Chuck Berry in ‘Run Rudolph Run‘.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside‘ could have been interesting, as Deschanel takes Ray Charles’ wolfish part and M. Ward (hereafter known as Betty Carter) is suspicious of things in his drink and suddenly wants to go home. Any time we might have spent lingering on this strange and sexually tense scene is wasted, as they race through the number with baffling speed.

But see here, this is Christmas, and Zooey Deschanel is not somebody any male with warm blood in his veins can be disappointed in for long. So what if the faster numbers can’t gather pace? There’s only three of them, dotted between some true gems. It’s not like you can’t dig out Slade or Wizzard to rock it up between the quieter moments.

The Christmas Song‘ is what She & Him have been doing best for half an hour or so; a serene, unhurried song to wish a reluctant goodbye. Deschanel whispers a seductive “Merry Christmas” in our ear, a hand slides off the guitar strings, and that’s the last of her silky purr we’ll hear this year.

You’re left smiling, though, if only because we know that this is as gentle, sweet and beautiful an album as anyone could hope to cheer them on a cold, blustery winter’s evening. So there it is. She & Him have pretty much got Christmas down pat. May that be truly said of us, and all of us.

And so, as Tiny Tim, or possibly Betty Carter observed: Cthulu Bless Us, Every One.

(Simon Moore)

Learn More

Leave a Reply