Bentley's Bandstand: Jackie DeShannon, Woody Guthrie Tribute, The Cobras

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Jackie DeShannon, When You Walk in the Room. There are colossal songwriters roaming the earth, sometimes remembered but often not, who are still capable of greatness. Jackie DeShannon had a hand in writing "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," "Bette Davis Eyes," and "Breakaway." And that's just for starters. The woman hit big with "When You Walk in the Room" during the early '60s, making that song a high-water mark for the British Invasion and beyond. Her voice was just as fine as her songs, which is well-known among cratedigger vinyl collectors everywhere pursuing those first Liberty Records releases.

jackie-deshannon-when-you-walk-in-the-room.jpgWhat a welcome surprise in 2011 to find Jackie DeShannon still capable of melting hearts at the turn of a verse. Her voice has deepened, sure, but with lyrics like these that only makes the emotions expressed even more inescapable. "Heart in Hand" is a two-hankie song at minimum, and her cover of "What the World Needs Now is Love" feels like a prayer that needs an immediate answer. Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono's "Needle & Pins" is even better now than then, and that includes the Searchers' almost-perfect cover.
 
Pop music is at its best when the borders are invisible and nobody's card gets pulled when they cross the half-century mark. When You Walk in the Room is the finest proof that sometimes age actually works in the artist's favor, allowing them to slow down and find their own pace. Jackie DeShannon shines so bright today it's like a distant star has returned closer to the planet, allowing all who want to see what was once there. It's a beautiful thing when the present and the past come together and find each other. Call it the miracle of music and listen often.
 
Woody Guthrie Centennial Note of Hope.jpgVarious Artists, Note of Hope: A Celebration of Woody Guthrie. Yes, this land is your land and this land is my land, but there was a lot more to Woody Guthrie's inner groove than those words. A revealing peak inside that mindset is written all over this album, full of longing, hardship, happiness and wild shenanigans that only Woody Guthrie could capture in song.

Rarely has as diverse a bunch been gathered to show just how broad that reach really is. Project director Rob Wasserman focused on primarily unpublished Guthrie songs written between 1942 and 1954 when the folk icon called New York City and Brooklyn home.
 
Van Dyke Park's unique orchestral sweep is given full view on the title track, and whether you're already a Van Dyke-type or not, this is music for the ages. It's just too bad he and Guthrie never got to hobo around the country together. That's just for starters, too.

After that singers like Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Nellie McKay, Lou  Reed, and others paint a picture of intrigue and delight. Feelings get scuffed and feathers are ruffled, because Woody Guthrie was no boy scout. He was mad as hell, even if he had to take it some more, and didn't mind turning up the heat every chance he got.
 
Two of the most haunting tracks are Studs Turkel's "I Heard a Man Talking," where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author riffs around a discussion between a petty thief and a barfly while Beatnik heaven rumbles in the background, and the late Chris Whitley's "On the High Lonesome." That star-crossed Southern man never really found his rightful place in the musical landscape before dying semi-young, but the luminous light he often cast onstage comes through loud and dear here. Shivers are surely delivered. The whole album is like that: a constant surprise of what one man's take on the world could stir in a nation. Woody Guthrie's footsteps are still being followed. Long may he walk. 
 
Cobras Live and Deadly.jpgThe Cobras, Live & Deadly. Fire up the semi-wayback machine and revisit Armadillo World Headquarters in November 1979. The Cobras were recording a live album at the venerated former armory building in Austin, and the full-tilt boogie meter was turned up to twelve. Maybe that's because the Cobras were a blasting rhythm & blues band whose ranks had once included a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Or possibly the group was busting at the seams to show the world what their mamas gave them, which was a totally excited style of barroom moves and bigtime playboy grooves, featuring the psychedelicious guitar of Denny Freeman, tenor man Joe Sublett and singers like drummer Rodney Craig, Paul Ray, Angela Strehli, and the late Larry Williams. Lovingly produced, then and now, by Hank Alrich, it captures one of Austin's true treasures right before the world turned and the lights went out.
 
For reasons known only to the cosmos, the almost-released album got scuttled - until now. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, because it's like a completely knocked-out time capsule has been discovered, buried beneath the long ago-bulldozed Armadillo. What we hear will singe the ears, sending blue flames rocketing through soul brothers and sisters near and far. It's like a fireworks stash got torched, and goes off for a full hour. Seriously.
 
Mostly featuring burning cover songs like "I Only Have Love," "Further on Up the Road," and a blistering "Sugaree." Live & Deadly is just that. There are no aggregations playing like this these days. They've been banished from the land for reasons unknown. Don't tell that to closet Cobras fans, who've probably been waiting for this release even if they didn't know of its existence. It fits to a T what Robert Johnson once sang: "It's really gonna bust your brains out and baby make you lose your mind." So turn up, dig in and freak out. Help has arrived.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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