Jackie DeShannon: Me About You / To Be Free

JackieDeShannon_MeAboutYouToBeFreeSophisticated DeShannon albums from ’68 and ’70

Jackie DeShannon is a singer-songwriter whose songs generally overshadowed her singing. Her version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What the World Needs Now is Love” etched her name on the upper reaches of the charts in 1965, and her own “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” notched a second commercial favorite in 1969. But other than these two worldwide hits, her albums and singles typically languished in the lower regions of the U.S. pop charts. Her albums for Imperial ranged from early teen-oriented pop to adult contemporary, and 1968’s Me About You marked a step toward the latter. DeShannon mixed personal originals with delicate, intimately interpreted covers of songs from John Sebastian, Tim Hardin, Jimmy Webb and Van Dyke Parks. The arrangements (by Jack Nitzsche, Nick De Caro, Kirby Johnson and Arthur Wright) are inventive and moving, but the West Coast production occasionally leaves DeShannon’s voice sticking out from the instrumentation.

Even as DeShannon found a more sophisticated sound, her lyrics often looked back, as on the original “Splendor in the Grass,” and her choice of pop covers, such as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” and the Turtles’ “Me About You,” tied in to her earlier period of songwriting and hit making. What’s really interesting, though, is how DeShannon contemporized this material, and how her growing maturity led to the bigger reach of 1969’s Laurel Canyon and Put a Little Love in Your Heart (each available separately), and this disc’s second feature, 1970’s To Be Free, her last for Imperial. To Be Free was the album that followed the massive success of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and it used the same production team. The songs, however, are mostly DeShannon’s, and the arrangements largely by Rene Hall. Hall’s work with Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles, and backing vocals by Vanetta Fields (Ikettes) and Clydie King (Raelettes) are the foundation of the album’s soul-meets-adult-contemporary sound.

The album opens with the funky bass, sharp horns and sweet strings of “Livin’ on the Easy Side,” and the sly “It’s So Nice” is sung like an early Prince song. The introspective and observational lyrics anticipate the singer-songwriter breakthrough of 1971’s Tapestry, though the slick production hasn’t the earthiness delivered by Lou Adler for Carole King. DeShannon’s eight originals are complemented by a medley of the Supremes “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Hurt So Bad,” and there’s a deeply felt, gospel-flavored cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire.” The album’s single, “Brighton Hill” reached #10 on the adult contemporary chart with its warm lyric of satisfaction. This two-fer CD’s lone bonus is an over-orchestrated cover of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” that won’t make you forget Rod Stewart’s 1971 hit (nor Hardin’s 1965 original); but it’s largely superfluous amid these two fine albums. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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