Zooey Deschanel shows new confidence as singer on second album by She & Him

There’s no question that Zooey Deschanel has grown enormously as a singer on “Volume Two” (Merge), the second album from She & Him.

She sounds more confident and takes more chances, making her sophomore outing with guitarist M. Ward a far stronger album than 2008’s “Volume One.” Gone is her tentative vocal approach, which sounded at times on the first album like she wasn’t really sure she wanted to be singing at all.

This time, she lets loose on opener “Thieves,” lifting her voice higher on the soaring, plaintive outro, where her vocals fade into a wash of strings and drums. She’s more at home on the more somber numbers, too, sighing over simple acoustic guitar on “Me and You” and trading wordless vocals with Ward between refrains.

It’s a lush album, with a vintage pop tone in the bright piano and chugging guitar that drive single “In the Sun” and the call-and-response backing vocals on “Over It Over Again.” In addition to gauzy curtains of strings that slide breezily in and out, these dozen songs (13 with the iTunes bonus track) are layered with vocal harmonies that are particularly lovely on a cover of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car” and “Lingering Still.”

The ‘Q tune is one of two covers on “Volume Two.” The other, Skeeter Davis’ “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” is a perfect portrait of wounded pride, and Deschanel sounds like she means it on the refrain. Her newfound assurance as a singer and songwriter, though, won’t make it so easy for the rest of us.

In the Sun mp3

— Text and photo by Eric R. Danton; mp3 courtesy of Merge

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