PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Mercury Rev Revive Bobbie Gentry by Revisiting 'Delta Sweete'

Photo courtesy of the artist

Mercury Rev have revived Delta Sweete as Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited and have enlisted a stellar cast of female singers to help, including Norah Jones, Margo Price, Beth Orton, Vashti Bunyan, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucinda Williams.

Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited
Mercury Rev

PTKF

8 February 2019

I want to be clear. I have never heard the original Bobbie Gentry 1968 album The Delta Sweete. I've only heard pieces of it. Individual songs such as "Okolona River Bottom Band", "Morning Glory", and "Sermon" have shown up on Bobbie Gentry anthology discs. They are tasty tracks with the strong flavor of the rural South. Fans have hailed the flop record that followed the huge hit "Ode to Billie Joe" as a lost classic. They say the entire album is better than just a sum of its songs. It is a marvelously creative and experimental country concept disc: a beautiful and compelling piece of American art. It was too good for the public and misunderstood by the record company that promoted Gentry. Sexism was involved as women weren't supposed to be creative geniuses.

While there is a certain amount of weirdness to the record, we are talking 1968 here: the year of the Beatles' "White Album", Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, and the Band's Music from Big Pink. Delta Sweete would seem to fit right in with these releases. It's unfortunate the record was not more commercially successful, but the history of popular music is full of unheralded and unheard masterpieces known only to cult audiences.

Mercury Rev have revived the album as Bobbie Gentry's the Delta Sweete Revisited and have enlisted a stellar cast of female singers to help, including Norah Jones, Margo Price, Beth Orton, Vashti Bunyan, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucinda Williams. I can't compare what they have done to the original (which I never heard). But I can attest to the high quality of what they have released. Each of the artists mentioned provides superb vocal accompaniments. The new recording is by turns lovely, haunting, exciting, and emotive—a mix of covers and originals that Gentry first put together—that evoke a mythical South baked in the lazy sunshine glow of memory.

There's also the hint of danger and excitement mixed in the dust of contentment that adds heat to being in the moment. Consider the Dutch actress/songstress Carice van Houten's take on Bukka White's Delta blues classic "Parchment Farm". She makes one pity the poor inmate busted for nothing but shootin' his wife. Damn. The song rolls with a steam train of intensity towards completion, sound effects and all. Mercury Rev maintain the essential blues character of the song.

That's not true of Hope Sandoval's sultry rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man". She takes it—and presumably, Gentry took it—to a much more sexual place. Mercury Rev give the singer lots of breathing room. She lets the lyrics drip like sweat on human skin: "Gonna get myself a boss man / one gonna treat me right / work him hard in the daytime / but I'll sure rest easy at night." The physical pleasures evoked are passionately clear.

Sound effects, slices of dialogue, children's songs, and whatnot are thrown into the mix to create a nostalgic small-town vibe. They are interspersed with songs and offered as interludes complete within themselves. Individual tracks bristle with the energy of opportunity. Mercury Rev employ a kitchen sink's worth of materials on the album but never overload an individual track. There is a sparseness to the arrangements and productions.

For example, they let Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab) sing Gentry's gentle "Mornin' Glory" over what seems a small orchestra at some points and just a plucked guitar at others to suggest the sweeping nature of dreams. Again, Mercury Rev presumably are simply recreating the original intent—but it is still wonderful.

The album does end with a bonus cut, a cover of "Ode to Billie Joe" by Lucinda Williams. She sings with a slight tremor in her voice, and Mercury Rev give her a heavy bass reverb, that adds a spookiness to the whole affair. When Williams sings about five more acres that need to be plowed, it sounds as if she's stabbing the air with a broad-bladed knife. The track provides an elegant coda to the album. Gentry's hit version was mysterious because she seemed like such a simple country girl to be telling such a tragic tale. Williams suggests that even 50 years later, we will never really understand what it all means, any more than we will ever get back to the world of Delta Sweete—or stop feeling as if we never really left.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.