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Music Review: Jackie DeShannon

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Safe to say that if the only platter Jackie DeShannon released had been her debut, sixties pop fans wouldn't be holding her name in such esteem today. For as revealed in a recent Collectors' Choice reissue (one of four DeShannon platters to be pulled from the vaults), the first long-player to feature the singer/songwriter's evocatively husky voice was a set of sincerely strummed folk songs quite removed from the transcendent studio pop ("What the World Needs Now Is Love," "Put a Little Love in Your Heart") and pop-rock ("Needles and Pins," "When You Walk into the Room") on which she's since built her rep. Jackie DeShannon, the woman who co-wrote "Bette Davis Eyes," singin' "Puff the Magic Dragon"? Just don't seem right.

Supported by master studio arranger Jack Nitzsche, the twelve tracks on 1963's Jackie DeShannon aren't bad; they just don't really rise above the multitude of albums released during the early sixties folk boom. A few tracks provide a slight hint of the more distinctive direction DeShannon would take — this is a woman, after all, who paved the way for the ringin' folk-rock sound with "When You Walk into the Room" — but it's easy to miss.

Instead, the overall impression is of overly polished middle-of-the-road folk music: three Dylan songs (the best of which is loping opener, "Walkin' Down the Line"); two tracks better known by Peter, Paul and Mary; some spirituals; Brit folk and an interesting obscurity penned by a young Bobby Darin ("Jailer Bring Me Water").

At times, the singer and her studio collaborators can't keep their pop proclivities from sneaking onto the tracks: her remake of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (re-titled "Oh, Sweet Chariot") features a girl group backup that wouldn't sound out of place on "Breakaway," the De Shannon composition rollickingly covered by Tracy Ullman two decades later. Such production playfulness was certain to offend the sensitivities of the period's ultra-serious folk purists, but, thankfully, it didn't put a crimp in the singer/songwriter's still-developing career.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.