Reviewed: Jackie DeShannon – When You Walk in the Room (Rockbeat, 2011)
It’s been more than a decade since listeners heard new recordings from Jackie DeShannon, and rather than writing new material, she’s chosen to reconsider the classics in her catalog. The good news is that the songs are terrific, DeShannon’s voice has aged well, and she finds compelling, new interpretations for the well-worn chestnuts. The less good news is that a few of the arrangements are undercooked, the tempos start to drag by album’s end, and the mixes don’t always lay the vocals fully into the instrumentation. It’s great to hear DeShannon singing, and to have these songs rethought by their author (alongside the new composition “Will You Stay in My Life”), but one might wish her co-producer pushed for a greater variety of approaches.
The album’s title track is its best, maturing the adolescent anticipation of DeShannon’s original into mature knowingness. Her earlier notes of youthful anxiety are transformed into hints of surprise as she lingers over the words and realizes the on-going strength of her desire. The stripping of ‘60s filigree from Marianne Faithful and Cher’s versions of “Come and Stay With Me” [1 2] turns the song from ‘60s pop into something fit for Linda Ronstadt’s early days, and that same Canyon vibe lives on in “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe.” The latter smooths the Byrds’ jangly folk-rock (and DeShannon’s own folk demo) into engaging adult pop. Among the most startling transformations is DeShannon’s turn of the hyperkinetic “Breakaway” [1 2 3] into a definitive and dark ballad, and a bluesy take on “Bad Water” that strips away the Raelettes’ ‘70s-style soul.
DeShannon’s vocals are engrossing throughout, but the simplified arrangement of guitars, bass and light drums hangs “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” halfway between a stripped-down folk style and the original single’s memorable combination of horns, strings and backing vocals. The thoughtful approach to “Bette Davis Eyes” is undermined by a metronomic drum line, and by the time the album gets to “Needles & Pins,” the tempo feels tired. Each track provokes new interpretation as it’s stripped- and slowed-down from its iconic initial recording, but taken as a collection they hit only a narrow range of emotional notes.