Jackie DeShannon

To Be Free

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In the late 1960s, Jackie DeShannon had reestablished herself as a chart presence with the singles "What the World Needs Now" and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and impressed critics with her album Laurel Canyon, and 1970's To Be Free seems to have been intended to consolidate these successes. DeShannon wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's 11 songs, and the themes often reflect the guarded optimism of those singles as well as the hipster pastoralism that was a growing part of pop culture at the time, while the arrangements and production are at once glossy and tasteful, merging top-notch studio craft with just enough restraint to keep the musicians from overwhelming DeShannon's vocals. To Be Free is a superb showcase for DeShannon the singer; many of the tracks find her reaching back to her rhythm & blues influences, and though the music doesn't quite follow the same path, her best moments here are superb. blue-eyed soul, balancing sweetness and grit with the grace of an acrobat. As a songwriting showcase, the album isn't quite as impressive; the opener "Livin' on the Easy Side" is a bit too cloying, "Child of the Street"'s celebration of a homeless hippie gal sounds woefully naïve four decades later, and "What Was Your Day Like" may make DeShannon's life sound enviable, but ultimately it doesn't have much to say. But "Sooner or Later," "Francoise," and "When Morning Comes Again" display a literacy and emotional depth that ranks with her best work; the good stuff more than compensates for the relative misfires, and her cover of Leonard Cohen's " "Bird on a Wire" is splendid. To Be Free isn't the triumph DeShannon and her collaborators seem to have been reaching for, and that reach often seems to be its greatest failing, but there are far too many good things in this album for anyone who loves great pop music to ignore it.

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