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Bobbie Gentry - The Delta Sweetie [Expanded Edition] (Capitol/UMe)

19 August 2020

As usual, 2020 is providing a slew of remasters, and repackaged classics. From the Stones to Sabbath, the sometimes much inflated, previously reissued releases are back, and within this surreal world we are reminded of the power of well known works of art. Then, there is this one, an album which transcends the average, a forgotten classic that is truly deserving of a much needed revisit. Nashville based, but Chicago bound, The Delta Sweetie by Bobbie Gentry is the sublime anomaly of the sixties. It is what No Other is to Gene Clarke. An album that reaches across one aspect of music, incorporating many styles to create an album of divine structure. That smoky voice of Gentry drifts effortlessly into the ears, creating an instant attachment. Her gentle rasp, akin to Dusty Springfield, is alive with an organic sense of passion. 

In 1967, Bobbie Gentry rode on a wave of acclaim on the back of “Ode to Billie Joe”. The number one hit, followed by the album of the same name, turned the spotlight on the 25 year-old singer songwriter. A signal of success shown as the album Ode To Billie Joe knocked the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top spot. Along the way, winning three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist, the thought of following up that debut album must have been overwhelming, but the lady did it, and bettered that debut. 

Released in February 1968, The Delta Sweetie is a concept album. One which predates the more famous rock concept pieces by the Who (Tommy), and Pretty Things (S.F Sorrow). But, unlike the aforementioned releases this is a personal album for Gentry, chronicling her life growing up in Mississippi, and how she then viewed the Deep South through adult eyes. Gentry reinvents the songs she heard on the radio as a child, such as “Big Boss Man” (Jimmy Reed), “Parchman Farm” (Mose Allison),  and “Tobacco Road” (John D. Loudermilk), recreates them with a bluesy, playful twist. While taking the themes of home life, and the religious church meetings in the self-penned numbers “Reunion”, “Sermon” and “Refractions”. 

From the start, with the echoes of “Okolona River Bottom Band”, this newly remastered edition springs to life, sounding crisper with the orchestration sounding fresh and dominant. Additional horn and string sections are now more noticeable, giving an extra depth to the proceedings. The sultry voice of Bobbie Gentry is captivating, and alluring, and any listener cannot help but become instantly transfixed. Of course, like so many reissues, there are the added extras. On both vinyl and cd issues comes ten bonus tracks, including the unreleased original demo of “The Way I Do”. While the CD version contains the same bonus tracks but with the original mono mix of the album. Usually a fan of mono, sixties recordings but here it takes away from the joyous stereo sound that is the heart pumping the emotion of Gentry. 

It is a thrilling experience to hear. A mixture of blues, soul, at times a hint of psychedelic-Americana. The Delta Sweetie is a remarkable release, and the restoration is warranted here, more so on any other this year. Tragically deleted from vinyl since 1972, I do recommend the Lp format, as it breathes beautifully on a stylus, and harks back to a gentler time across ten tracks. As for the bonuses, they are just that, they do not add or take away, they are just an insight into the inner workings of this seminal album. 

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Vinyl Tracklist; 
1.Okolona River Bottom Band –(Remastered 2020)     
2.Big Boss Man –(Remastered 2020)     
3.Reunion –(Remastered 2020)     
4.Parchman Farm –(Remastered 2020)     
5.Mornin’ Glory –(Remastered 2020)     
6.Sermon –(Remastered 2020)     
1.Tobacco Road –(Remastered 2020)     
2.Penduli Pendulum –(Remastered 2020)     
3.Jessye’ Lisabeth –(Remastered 2020)     
4.Refractions –(Remastered 2020)     
5.Louisiana Man –(Remastered 2020)     
6.Courtyard –(Remastered 2020)     

1.Okolona River Bottom Band –(Instrumental)–Previously unreleased     
2.Mississippi Delta–(Alternate version)–Not been on vinyl before     
3.Seventh Son –(Band Version)–Not been on vinyl before     
4.The Way I Do –(Demo)–Previously unreleased     
5.Feelin’ Good –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before     
1.Mornin’ Glory –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before     
2.Sermon –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before
3.Jessye’ Lisabeth –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before     
4.Refractions –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before     
5.Louisiana Man –(Demo)–Not been on vinyl before