Jackie DeShannon left her longtime home of Liberty/Imperial Records in 1971 for the supposedly greener pastures of Capitol Records. Initially, things got off to a good start, with the label sending her to American Sound Studios to record with producer Chips Moman, the same man who helmed Elvis Presley's epochal 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis. Presley's record wasn't the first recorded by a major artist at American Sound. Dusty Springfield got there first, recording Dusty in Memphis in the fall of 1968. That groundbreaking blue-eyed soul LP is clearly the template for Moman's production of DeShannon at American, and the pair actually got within shooting distance of that classic. The music is weathered and lived-in, with the studio pros giving DeShannon warm support, and she never takes advantage of their suppleness. She doesn't push, she doesn't oversing, she understands the songs and works to serve their needs. On the whole, the sides she cut at American work as a collective -- without any stunners -- but the music holds together as a realized album, a testament to DeShannon's skills as an interpreter and writer, not to mention the crew Moman shepherded at American.
As good as it was, it wasn't enough for Capitol. They scrapped most of the record and DeShannon made another album in Hollywood with her, Eric Malamud, and John Palladino at the helm, winding up with a record that leaned into country-rock. The resulting Songs fit into the hazy '60s hangover of 1971, relying on a looser feel that resembles Delaney & Bonnie -- this is particularly true on covers of Bob Dylan ("Lay Lady Lay," heard here as "Lay, Baby, Lay") and Van Morrison ("And It Stoned Me") -- but doesn't necessarily focus on hits either. Indeed, Songs didn't burn up the charts, so DeShannon soon departed for Atlantic -- a label that allowed her to follow her soul fantasies -- which meant her time at Capitol is often consigned to a footnote, but the 2018 Real Gone set Stone Cold Soul: The Complete Capitol Recordings reveals how rich this mangled, maligned phase was. DeShannon's biggest problem during this brief stint at Capitol is that she didn't deliver a knockout, but both the Memphis and Hollywood sessions are testaments to the studio pros in the cities, who knew how to deliver a nuanced groove, and a testament to DeShannon, who preferred the song to a vibe. All this means that the music on Stone Cold Soul feels alive decades after its recording: the musicians and the singer are serving the songs, and their chemistry elevated their material. Maybe it didn't result in music that was a hit at the time, but it made for music whose appeal is lasting. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine