Jackie DeShannon is one of the better, if under-appreciated, singer/songwriters in all of American music. Her career now extends back 50 years and has produced dozens of hit songs and albums. She was an opening act on The Beatles first North American tour and was recently inducted into The Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
Her songbook has been waiting for interpretation, and what better person to re-record these songs than DeShannon herself? When You Walk In The Room (scheduled for release on September 27) finds her revisiting 11 of her best-known songs.
DeShannon has one of those unique voices that is instantly recognizable. And here she wisely strips the music to its basics as an acoustic guitar and bass provide the major instrumental backing. Throw in some judiciously placed strings and electric guitar and you have the definitive re-interpretation of her work. She takes this material in a gentle direction and while the songs can be considered straight pop, many times her approach moves over into folk territory. Her voice sounds better than in the past as she is able to adapt the material to suit her current capabilities.
“When You Walk In The Room” is the lead track and sets the table for what will follow. She recorded the song with a different tempo that renders it into something much simpler focuses on the lyrics. The acoustic guitar playing is mixed just right as each note is crystal clear.
DeShannon recorded “Bette Davis Eyes” in 1974 and released it on the album, New Arrangement,but the song will always be most associated with Kim Carnes, whose 1981 version topped the Billboard Pop Singles Chart for nine weeks and was the second-ranked single of the decade. DeShannon, as the co-writer of the track, won the 1982 Grammy for Song of The Year. Here she strips the song down with only an acoustic guitar and some subtle bass lines in support. Her relaxed, smooth vocal is the exact opposite of the one Carnes delivered with such intensity.
While she wrote or co-wrote nine of these 11 tracks, one DeShannon did not pen was “Needles and Pins,” which originally was an obscure single for her in 1963. The Searchers scored a pop hit with an uptempo version of this Jack Nitzsche/Sonny Bono composition about a year later. Here, DeShannon renders it as a creative ballad.
Her two biggest hits, “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” are present but the big surprise of the album is “Bad Water.” She gets a little bluesy with the vocal, which recalls her approach in the past. Overall When You Walk In The Room is a wonderful journey through Jackie DeShannon’s past with a modern twist. By presenting many of her best songs at their simplest, she proves they were indeed worth revisiting.
Article first published as Music Review: Jackie DeShannon – When You Walk In The Room on Blogcritics.