Bobbie Gentry fans have lived in a world of feast or famine. For many years, recordings by the Girl from Chickasaw County were hard to come by. Although Gentry made seven albums between 1967-1971, she stopped recording, and her albums soon went out of print. Gentry retired from performing live not long afterward. Although Gentry had 11 individual chart successes, she was considered by casual fans to be a one-hit wonder because of the monster sales of her 1967 “Ode to Billy Joe”. The song was ubiquitous on the radio dial during the year of its release. Most people just identify Gentry with this song and do not realize the depth and breadth of her talent.
However, Gentry’s music was rediscovered by a new, younger audience in the 21st century. Because of pent-up demand, in 2018, an eight-disc box set was released entitled The Girl from Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters featuring all of her Capitol recordings. The package was an incredible treasure trove of wonderful material and went through three pressings (and is currently on its fourth!).
However, the box is a BIG item. The CD collection weighed almost three pounds and contained ephemeral material that may not interest those not obsessed with the completist elements of Gentry’s career. A less expensive release, the two-CD Highlights From the Capitol Masters, has just come out and should satisfy all but the most rabid fans. It weighs slightly more than half a pound.
Highlights From the Capitol Masters contains all of Gentry’s hits, including the original of “Ode to Billie Joe,” alternative versions of “Mississippi Delta”, “Touch Em’ With Love”, and her duet with Glen Campbell, “Let It Be Me”. In addition, there are tracks from Gentry’s obscure jazz album, The Windows of the World, which was issued in a limited edition on vinyl for Record Store Day 2021, live performances taken from her BBC TV series, and other rarities such as the acoustic demos of original tunes such as “Hurry Tuesday Child” and “Seasons Come, Seasons Go”, unreleased tracks such as “Smoke” and “Joanne”, and covers of “Conspiracy of Homer Jones” and “God Bless the Child”. Some recordings have been remixed from the multi-tracks for this release, including “Caskette Vignette” and “Recollection”. Andrew Batt compiled and re-mastered the music for this anthology. (See PopMatters’ 4 February 2019 interview with Batt for an insightful piece about his work on the original box set.)
Gentry has been name-checked as a crucial influence on a host of contemporary female artists such as Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Lucinda Williams. This double dip into Gentry’s oeuvre reveals why Gentry is so admired. There are no duds on the two-CD set. One could drop the needle anywhere and be mesmerized by Gentry’s rich and diverse talents on these 46 tracks. These songs show just how good she was—and maybe still is. Gentry lives in seclusion after retiring more than 40 years ago despite many requests for her to come back to the music business. She remains as much of a mystery as Billy Joe McAllister’s suicide or whatever it was that dropped off Tallahatchie Bridge. But Gentry’s music remains as sweet and clear as it ever was. These highlights should help introduce her to a new audience who never got the chance to hear her the first time around.