She & Him | Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson | Fantasy
3.5 Out of 5 Stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Some folks could have been forgiven at first for thinking the union of the ebullient singer and actress Zooey Deschanel and the downcast denizen of hushed happenstance, M. Ward, was an odd mismatch, even by the most liberal standards. Even now, after some seven albums — two of them Christmas collections no less — they seem like a curious couple.
Consequently, this unorthodox approach to the music of Brian Wilson seems somewhat strange at first. After all, the music of the Beach Boys was awash in harmony and elaborate arrangements, something She & Him pursued rather precariously over the course of their career. Never mind that Wilson’s musical legacy has been rekindled of late, courtesy of a sobering documentary, an expanded version of the Beach Boys Sounds of Summer greatest hits and Jeff Beck’s instrumental takes on two of their numbers, courtesy of 18, his new duo disc with Johnny Depp. So too, the fact that Deschanel contributed to Wilson’s 2015 solo album No Pier Pressure implied that the two shared some common ground. That’s bolstered by the fact that Wilson returns the favor here on a cover of “Do It Again.”
As a result, given the advantage of repeated listens, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson actually works remarkably well. Granted, it’s hardly the effusive outing that might come to mind when envisioning intrepid interpretations of “Darlin’,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “This Whole World,” and, as previously noted, “Do It Again.” These were, after all, songs rooted in youthful innocence, unequivocal optimism and dazzling discovery. While Deschanel conveys similar starry-eyed sentiments, Ward’s deadpan vocals are often the antithesis of Wilson’s perceived intents. Likewise, the arrangements, though fairly elaborate, are just as often elusive. It’s often hard to get a handle on the music, especially considering the fact that in some cases, the melodies are rendered barely recognizable. The fact that Ward and Deschanel delve into otherwise obscure choices (“Deirdre,” “Melt Away,” “Heads You Win—Tails I Lose”) further deepens the divide.
Nevertheless, the pair deserve credit for an adventurous attitude and for not allowing their reverence to deter their intents. These are, after all, interpretations, and in any such circumstance, creativity counts. Granted, it’s an unorthodox tack for a tribute, but it’s one that still resonates well.
Photo Credit: Elliot Lee Hazel