Question: How does an artist meet expectations of twenty yearsí standing? Answer: Donít try. Instead, create a deeply personal work of art that reflects the artistís current worldview. And this is pretty much what Jackie DeShannon has done for her first album since 1978ís Quick Touches. Instead of trying to recapture her previous musical styles, You Know Me presents a thoroughly contemporary Jackie at peace with herself and examining the world around her.
In comparison to her previous work, You Know Me is closest in style to 1975ís New Arrangement and, especially, to the 1984 single Wings of Victory/Possible Dream. Lyrically deep, this is Jackieís most mature collection to date. Musically complex, it is also the most radio-friendly album sheís recorded, despite the lack of pressure for a ďhitĒ from any record company executives. The songs can be broken down into three main themes: love songs (Just How Right You Are, There Goes the One, Any Heart), socio-political commentaries (Somewhere in America, Here On) and somewhat abstract poetic odes (Song For Sandra Jeanne, Keeper of the Dream).
The album opens with the anthemic Steal the Thunder, with chiming electric guitars, pillowy synthesizers, and Jackie singing "want to give you all this love." Wing Ryder is a tender country ballad revved up by soaring electric guitar, that cries out for a backing vocal by Emmylou Harris. In Somewhere in America, Jackie urges us to action to help preserve the environment (Rain forests are burning/The South Pole is melting/We are responsible). Any Heart is a rather generic ballad saved by a searing pedal-point guitar line. The most ambitious song on the album is Song For Sandra Jeanne (Rites of Passage). Presumably written for Jackieís late mother, it seems to be a nostalgic look back at difficult but fondly remembered years. Set in a progressive folk-rock mood, it is like nothing Jackie has ever recorded before.
To these ears, the album really takes off with the title track. Originally heard in Darlene Loveís one-woman show, Jackie sings this inspirational track with soul and grace. It is simply one of the best vocal performances of her career. Indeed, throughout the album, Jackieís voice is as strong as ever. Time, and time off, hasnít diminished these pipes in the least. You Know Me also makes one realize just how timeless and contemporary Jackieís songwriting is. If other artists recorded these songs, they would surely have huge hits with them. You Know Me could be huge for the Backstreet Boys. Celine Dion could take Any Heart to the top of the charts. Besides being one of the best vocalists of the modern era, Jackie is also one of the best songwriters. She should be giving Diane Warren a run for her money. Perhaps this album will make that possible.
Just How Right You Are is pure power pop, and is the closest Jackie comes to recreating her mid-60s classics, albeit in an updated manner. I dare you to turn this up to eleven and try not to dance!
If I have any criticism to make, it would be with the musical arrangements. For example, in Just How Right You Are, arguably the catchiest track on the album, Jackie refers to her classic song When You Walk in the Room (See the best one coming through/When you walk into the room). The swirling organ is just the right touch, but how perfect it would have been to hear a jangly 12-string Rickenbacher instead of the Big 80s guitar. It would have been retro and modern at the same time. And while the band plays tightly and competently, they sometimes sound too slick and professional, lacking the energy and urgency of Jackieís finest supporting bands (such as those heard on Laurel Canyon and Jackie.)
There Goes the One is a nostalgic ballad reminiscent of her early songs co-written with Sharon Sheeley. Vanished in Time is perhaps the most perfectly executed song on the record. With itís big heartland sound (Bruce Hornsby could do a nice job with this) and moving lyrics, Jackie sings with assurance, the band hits just the right groove, and the mix is perfectly balanced. (This isnít always the case; several cuts on the album have Jackieís vocals a little overwhelmed by the instruments which obscures some of the words.)
Keeper of the Dream continues this winning streak. Previously heard in the film The Secret Life of Girls, this simple, bluesy number was dominated by acoustic guitar. Here Jackie expands it, adding string sounds, background harmonies, and a "Sweet Jane" interlude. Raze uses both mandolin and power chords to sound its cry that it isnít too late to undo the damage man has done to the Earth. Red Montana Skies is another great heartland rocker. The penultimate track adds another genre to Jackieís catalog. A reggae anthem co-written with her brother Randy Myers, Here On is an inspirational plea for us all to put a little love in our hearts. And as strange as it may seem to hear Jackie DeShannon singing reggae, the track is completely successful, and is in fact one of the strongest songs on the album.
The CD proper really ends here. The final track, Trader, a paen to manifest destiny written by Carl Wilson, and included on the Beach Boys 1973 album Holland, serves more as a coda than an album closer. It tells the story of the foreigner conquering indigenous peoples and decimating their culture, but ends on a hopeful note, with Jackie repeating the phrase "Reason to live" as the music fades peacefully away into the future. It is a fitting conclusion, as Hope is the recurring theme of the album.
And that hope is what makes this possibly the best album Jackie DeShannon has made to date. There is not a negative feeling to be found anywhere on this collection. The aura created here is one of pure positive energy. Even songs that could sound sad rendered by another singer (Wing Ryder, You Know Me, Vanished In Time) emerge with a sense of optimism and peace with Jackieís delivery. Indeed, the impression the listener is left with is that of a mature woman at peace with herself and the world. A woman who, despite personal and professional disappointments, has emerged with an outlook of optimism that is infectious and overpowering. Jackie DeShannon knows what the world needs now. We need love. ~ William George