Jackie DeShannon by Jackie DeShannon

December 6, 2009

Jackie DeShannon is best remembered today as the composer of Kim Carnes’ huge 1981 Grammy winning hit “Bette Davis Eyes” which spent over two months at the top of The American singles charts and was the number two ranked single of the entire decade.

She has released numerous albums and singles during the course of her almost five decades career including the top ten hits “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart.” Her music quickly developed into slick, well produced pop which fit her wonderful clear voice well.

Her 1963 self titled debut album has now been re-released by Collector’s Choice Music. It is very different from all the other albums in her vast catalogue as it finds her trying to capitalize on the folk revival movement of the early sixties. Her original intent was to issue an entire album of Bob Dylan covers but instead she settled for three of his songs plus nine other traditional and contemporary folk tunes.

The best of the Dylan compositions is “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” where she eschews any background vocals and gives a gritty and sincere vocal performance. “Walkin’ Down The Line” is about as pop as she gets on this release as she speeds up the tempo and uses a number of background singers to fill in the sound. “Blowin’ In The Wind” has now been covered by countless artists and while her version may have sounded fresh in 1963, today it is regulated to the average category.

While The Weavers originally recorded “If I Had A Hammer,” it is now associated with Peter, Paul & Mary and her take on the song is similar to theirs. She also adds a little pop leaning to their “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” as well.

Two traditional folk songs fare well under her gentle touch. “500 Miles” and the old Celtic ballad “Betsy From Pike” are both delivered in a poignant and haunting manner.

Jackie DeShannon turned out to be the road less taken as far as her career was concerned. As such it remains an interesting and still highly listenable album 46 years after its initial release.

Me About You/To Be Free by Jackie DeShannon

September 29, 2009

Jackie DeShannon toured with The Beatles, dated Jimmy Page, and hung out with Elvis. She also has placed sixteen singles on the Billboard charts and released over twenty studio albums. Her original compositions have been recorded by many artists and in 1982 her “Bette Davis Eyes” won the The Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

Collectors Choice Music has just issued several of her classic albums and this is the best value as you receive two albums for the price of one. Me About You, issued in 1968, and To Be Free, issued in 1970, are now seeing the light of day for the first time in decades.

Me About You catches her trying to change with the times. Music was evolving in 1968 and she was trying to present a more mature mix of material. She depended upon songwriters of the day as she only wrote three of the tracks.

Her vocal style is fully developed by the time she recorded this album. She still has a purity to her style but now added an ability to provide passion and emotion as well.

She recorded three tracks by the songwriting team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. The title song is given an urgency not heard on The Turtles version. “What Ever Happened To Happy” is smooth and perky while “I’m With You” comes very close to a country sound.

There are a number of other highlights as well. She takes the old Four Tops tune, “I’ll Turn To Stone,” in a pop direction. Two Tim Hardin songs, “Baby Close Its Eyes” and the bonus track “Reason To Believe,” are given simple renditions as is The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It.”

Her best original compositions are the ballad “Splendor In The Grass” and the nice love song “I Keep Wanting You.”

To Be Free is a very different affair. She mostly leaves the cover songs behind and writes or co-writes eight of its eleven tracks. She also is supported by a number of background singers in places which help to fill out the sound.

“Livin’ On The Easy Side,” “What Was Your Day Like,” and “Child Of The Street” show a great deal of lyrical and musical growth by DeShannon as she leaves the simplicity of her early compositions behind. “Brighton Hill,” inspired by her love of the English countryside, features a very smooth pop vocal and should have been a big hit single.

She always had an affinity for soul music and here she successfully presents a medley of the odd combination of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Little Anthony and The Imperials’ “Hurt So Bad.”

Me About You/To Be Free is a nice slice of late sixties, early seventies pop music by an artist who is often ignored. This one is a keeper.

New Arrangement by Jackie DeShannon

September 20, 2009

Jackie DeShannon released nineteen studio albums between 1963 and 1978, producing two top ten American singles with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” in 1965 and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” in 1969. Yet she never became a household name in the United States. Her most interesting claim to fame was opening for The Beatles on tour in 1964. It is as a songwriter, however, that has yielded her most enduring success as her compositions have been continually recorded by many artists down through the years.

Collector’s Choice has now reached back into her extensive catalogue to reissue four of her classic albums. New Arrangement, originally released in 1975, finds her as a fully developed pop artist. Her early work was close to folk but over the years she had transitioned more toward pop. She was now using strings and a variety of other instruments to give her music a fuller sound.

While I own a vinyl copy of this album, the remastered CD, in comparison, makes for a vastly superior listen. He voice has a much purer quality than on my old record which greatly enhances the experience. The backing instruments are also crystal clear which allows an appreciation of her songwriting expertise.

Today the most famous track is her “Bette Davis Eyes.” Her vocal has a light jazz feel to it and the honky-tonk piano adds to its flavor. Six years later Kim Carnes would take this song in a rock direction with a gritty vocal and produce one of the biggest hit singles of the rock era, remaining in the number one position on the American charts for nine weeks. It would win DeShannon the Grammy Award for song of the year in 1982.

The album contains a number of excellent tracks. “Let The Sailors Dance” is wonderful and catchy up-tempo pop. “Boat To Sail” has sophisticated lyrics and interesting tempo changes. “Queen Of The Rodeo” is a blend of pop and country with a steel guitar in support.

There are five bonus tracks, including two rare singles DeShannon released for the Columbia Label which are a nice inclusion. Four of the bonus tracks were written with pop composer extraordinaire John Bettis, which is also a treat.

It’s nice to see Jackie DeShannon receiving some long overdue respect. If you have never explored her music, New Arrangement is a good place to start. You won’t be disappointed.