Celebrity crossover to music ‘not all bad’

She & Him — Volume One

Although most celebrities have some trouble with crossing over into the music industry, the debut release from She & Him proves that not all crossovers are bad. She & Him is comprised of actress Zooey Deschanel, whose voice you will recognize from the movie ‘Elf,’ and notable indie singer-songwriter M. Ward. Their collaboration, “Volume One,” is one of the more hyped releases of the past several months, and can easily be likened to that of west coasters Rilo Kiley. Although the album starts on a high note with “Sentimental Heart,” the quality drops off significantly thereafter. Stylistically, “Volume One” straddles the indie-pop and folk line, definitively showing Ward’s influence on the backing music. Some tracks, however, remind the listener more of a 50s all-girl doo-wop act than a 21st century dream hookup between an actress and notable out-of-the-mainstream songwriter. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be the essential hipster music-lover, She & Him definitely offer up a CD worth listening to.

My Morning Jacket — Evil Urges

It has been nearly three years since My Morning Jacket released a studio album. Their last effort, “Z,” was released in the fall of 2005 and was critically acclaimed as the type of record that would allow MMJ to become the American equivalent of Radiohead.

“Evil Urges,” released just a month ago, has already crawled into the Billboard Top 10 albums. It is unfortunate, however, that this album will be the impression that many first-time listeners will get. Rather than the classic ingenuity of singer-songwriter Jim James, “Evil Urges” reeks of complacency and a less-than-good simplicity. James has always been known for his unique voice that can span a couple of octaves more than the average singer for an indie band. His strong falsetto had always been used in appropriate proportion to a more common voice, lending power to songs at just the right moment. But the title track on “Evil Urges” finds James singing in a falsetto for the entirety of the song, to the point of it being annoying.

Of the disc’s 14 tracks, I find myself with only three that remind me of classic My Morning Jacket — innovative, enjoyable and balls-to-the-wall.

All in all, I find “Evil Urges” to be gravely disappointing. Skipping from one musical genre to the next with every song creates a discontinuity in the album that doesn’t help the disc’s already lacking style. Regardless, “Evil Urges,” like every other album the band has previously released, is better than 99.9% of the music being released these days. So, if you want something new, give it a try.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy — Lie Down in the Light

Another Louisville native, Will Oldham has one of the longer musical resumes of any local musician. Most of Oldham’s 14 full-length albums have drawn considerable praise from music writers of all stripes. They have generally been known to be somber and, in some cases, downright depressing. “Lie Down in the Light” is Oldham’s latest release and represents a dramatic shift in tone, but the same usual excellence expected of Oldham.

In all honesty, I can find no flaws whatsoever in Oldham’s new release. It is, hands-down, one of the absolute best records to come out in 2008. “Lie Down in the Light” also posits itself to challenge previous Oldham opuses “I See a Darkness” and “Viva Last Blues” as one of his most spectacular works yet. The gem of this album is the closing track, “I’ll Be Glad,” which serves as a reinforcing anthem to the uplifting tone of the record. From start to finish and everywhere in between, “Lie Down in the Light” is a must-have for any true appreciator of the songwriting craft. Mr. Oldham has outdone himself, and has certainly done Kentucky proud.