New Arrangement

Jackie DeShannon

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New Arrangement Review

by Mark Deming

Jackie DeShannon hadn't stopped growing as either a musician and a songwriter in the mid-'70s, but she wasn't having hits like she did in the '60s, so when DeShannon signed with Columbia Records, the label paired her with producer Michael Stewart (who had worked with Billy Joel on his breakthrough album Piano Man) to give her material a more contemporary (and commercial) sound. 1975's New Arrangement moves back and forth between polished adult contemporary material and only slightly less slick country-influenced numbers, and Stewart surrounded DeShannon with an impressive team of accompanists for these sessions, including legendary sessionmen Waddy Wachtel, Jesse Ed Davis, Larry Knechtel, and Leland Sklar, as well as Brian Wilson, who contributes backing vocals on "Boat to Sail" with his then-wife Marilyn. Stewart's production tends to put too much gloss on the music and leans towards the gimmicky in the arrangements, making a few of the songs sound like theme music to thankfully forgotten TV sitcoms, but DeShannon manages to rise above her surroundings. She's in fine voice on New Arrangement, and her songwriting is smart, accomplished, and capable of working in a variety of styles, from the literate title cut (which recalls Court and Spark-era Joni Mitchell) and the subtly witty Walter Mitty tale of "Murphy" to the country-flavored character sketch "Queen of the Rodeo" and the smooth and jazzy sway of "Sweet Baby Gene." The album also features DeShannon's original recording of "Bette Davis Eyes," and unlike the faux-new wave melodrama of Kim Carnes' 1981 hit single, in DeShannon's hands the songs is a sassy and playful portrait of a gal who is "as pure as New York snow"; it's sharp and funny despite the forced old-school arrangement. Jackie DeShannon probably deserved a more sensitive studio partner than Michael Stewart on New Arrangement, but whatever the album's flaws, they don't hold her back. Too bad the same couldn't have been said for her career -- New Arrangement proved to be DeShannon's last major-label album.

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