Authenticity when it comes to art is less about veracity than appearance. We appreciate John Fogerty's take on the bayou even though he grew up in decidedly un-swamp-like Berkeley, Calif., and applaud Jonathan Richman's naifish charm despite the calculation that undoubtedly went into it. As acting is also about making pretense seem natural, the only complaint one might level at Zooey Deschanel's coy, pitch-perfect innocent act is that, at some point, it's almost assured to cross over into slick affectation. Especially given that her musical persona varies little from her big-screen presence, evoking a blushing girl-next-door, who's unassailable on her pedestal with a sweet impenetrable smile and saucer-size doe eyes.
Musical collaborator M. Ward bathes his ingénue in orchestral bliss, warmly recalling the baroque craftsmanship of Burt Bacharach and his Brill Building peers. It's both the ideal musical accompaniment and era for Deschanel's hipster, thrift-store nostalgia. Channeling the irony-free twee of '60s girl groups, Nancy Sinatra and Petula Clark, she luxuriates in the plush environs, cooing convincingly about indifferent men (however difficult that might be to believe). Ward's cupboard overflows with plucky pianos, angelic backing vocals and swelling strings, upping the instrumental sophistication over 2008's Volume I. Indeed, their debut's more straightforward, genre-conscribed efforts seem black-and-white compared to the Technicolor arrangements of their latest.
Though Deschanel penned most of the songs, their best effort here is NRBQ's "Ridin' in My Car," which Ward suffuses with blinding Cali-pop sunshine straight out of the Mamas and the Papas; their vocal duet is mesmerizing. Other highlights include the jaunty, Brit Invasion-psych-pop of "Don't Look Back," with its lyrical Persephone conceit, and the pedal steel-adorned "Me and You," leaving an echo of Lee Hazlewood in mind. In lesser hands, this would be kitsch, but Ward and Deschanel's lavish care captures the period's feel without pandering. (And so who cares if they are pandering?)
Sunday, June 6, at Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-298-0708; with the Chapin Sisters.
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].