Uggghhh. That’s the natural verbal reaction upon news of another movie star indulging in a pop-music project, a reflex instilled in us by all the Dogstar and Minnie Driver records we’ve endured over the years. But maybe with Volume One, the debut from L.A. lady Zooey Deschanel and new-folk troubadour M. Ward, we can let go of some of that aggression.
It helps that Deschanel isn’t a typical Hollywood douchebag—she’s a cool, arty type who looks great in vintage frocks, not to mention an experienced vocalist who tackles difficult jazz material with her cabaret act, If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies, and did some gorgeous shower singing in Elf. She plays piano handsomely on this record and has been known to accompany herself on ukulele. Furthermore, in Ward, she found the right guy to produce, play guitar, and add gentle backing vocals, rendering her pretty love songs as AM radio hits from a former generation. (As opposed to Scarlett Johansson, who unwisely convinced TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek to add future fuzz to her upcoming album of Tom Waits covers.)
Many of Deschanel’s originals call to mind Carly Simon; her voice, though, is very Linda Ronstadt, and there’s also a bit of ’60s girl-pop (“I Was Made for You”) and twangy country (“Got Me”). The covers are a little flat—Deschanel’s deadpan delivery might be cute in supporting roles, but it’s not as charming when leading a Beatles song (“I Should Have Known Better”). But there’s nothing offensive about anything on Volume One, which, with its catchy melodies, universally appealing lyrics, and mellow production, might just be a hit. The really crazy thing is that might not even be maddening.