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'Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited'   

-  Label: 'Bella Union'
-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '8th February 2019'

Our Rating:
A bit of a misnomer this one since, although it's the brainchild of Jonathan Donahue and 'Grasshopper', it can hardly be described as a Mercury Rev album.

Instead, what the two have done is assemble a stellar cast of female vocalists to pay tribute to Bobbie Gentry's all but forgotten 1968 classic album.

In their studio in New York's Catskill Mountains, the 'Revvers' worked on backing tracks with Jesse Chandler (previously in the Texas group Midlake). In this way, their key contribution to the record is to add what critic David Fricke describes in his liner notes as their "hallucinatory flair and dreamy orchestration".

To hardcore Bobbie Gentry fans, the radicalism of some of the makeovers may flatter to deceive but once you become accustomed to the unique atmosphere of the record, the level of reverence for the original album is plain.

Almost certainly, a series of straight covers would have been a meaningless project. What the range and scope of interpretations show is how nuanced and advanced this set of songs were and are. Effectively, they can be re-imagined without diminishing their force.    

In her heyday, Gentry's vulnerable yet assertive style was as bold as it was enigmatic. From the get go she was far more than just another country songstress. She drew from her childhood experiences and church life on her grandparents’ farm in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. Even now, she comes across as thoroughly modern voice and in the late sixties she was probably regarded by most as a freak.

The choice of contributors shows a strong bias towards those from slowcore or shoegaze bands with the inclusion of singers from bands like Mazzy Star, Slowdive, Cowboy Junkies and Stereolab.

Inevitably therefore, a sultry, even sulky, mood largely prevails in contrast to Gentry's more vigorous and assertive style. Play Rachel Goswell's restrained version of Reunion back to back with the original's petulant craving for a beautiful dress and it's hard to hear them as the same song.

And not all the songs work. Oklolona River Bottom Band seems ill-suited to Norah Jones slick style and Hope Sandoval's subdued take of Big Boss Man strips the song of its subversive power.

However, despite these occasional misfires, the overall quality is consistently high and not all the twelve songs are subjected to such dramatic revamps. The sleepy Mornin' Glory is faithfully recreated through Laetitia Sadler's restrained delivery and the reflective Courtyard is well suited to the majestic interpretation of Beth Orton.     

Another perfect match is Refractions. The line "I had a most distressing dream last night" is tailor made for Marissa Nadler, a specialist in recounting dark feelings associated with uneasy dreams.

Other singers include rising country star Margo Price (Sermon), Norway's Suzanne Sundfør (Tobacco Road) and Californian folk rocker Phoebe Bridgers (Jesseye' Lisabeth).

The track sequence is the same as the 1968 recording save for the addition of Gentry's best known song Ode To Billie Joe in place of 'Louisiana Man'. This 1967 single wasn't on the album although it was still high in the charts when recording started and more than merits inclusion since the masterful reading of it is by the great Lucinda Williams.

When it was first released, the Delta Sweete album was largely ignored; it didn't even make Billboard’s Top 100. Belatedly, its brilliance should be recognized now now thanks to the devoted work of Mercury Rev and their talented band of female accomplices.

Mercury Rev's website
  author: Martin Raybould

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MERCURY REV - Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited