Beyonce did not write ‘Independent Women, Pt 1’ about singer-songwriter-producer-presenter-designer-performer Bobbie Gentry. But she could have. And I’d like to think that if it weren’t for the tragic colour line still running through the music industry Bey and Bobbie would come up in the same conversations.

The similarities are more than passing: southern women; humble backgrounds; precocious musical talent; determination that would be ‘steely’ in a man but looked askance upon in a woman; chart-topping songs; record-breaking record deals; designed their own clothes; created one-woman shows to display their blazing talent.

All of this simmers beneath the shimmering surface of 'The Delta Sweete' – a thoughtful 2CD/2LP repackaging of Gentry’s ambitious second album. Her 1967 debut 'Ode to Billie Joe' knocked the Beatles’ 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' off the top of the Billboard charts. Released just six months later, 'The Delta Sweete' boasts an insouscient musical eclecticism it had taken the Liverpudlians six years to achieve.

‘Okolona River Bottom Band’ opens the album with a bass whump-whump that would make Jack White envious before loosing a soulful bass honk. Gentry’s lightly smoked voice fires the lyrics with bawdy suggestion. When she intones, “There's not a half grown man/That wouldn't like to be/In the Okolona River Bottom Band” it’s clear this may not be a conventional audition. The spoken-word outro turns suspicion into a certainty. “You got a friend?” a male voice wheedles. She laughs: “Don’t I.”

Another eleven tracks of that would make a respectable country album.

Instead, Gentry delivers the raucous half-sung/half-spoken ‘Reunion’, a tart ode to the supposed joys of family togetherness; the string-soaked, Nick Drake-esque folk of ‘Mornin’ Glory' (in which double entendre adds the right amount of tart to the sweet); ‘Refractions’ pulls the listener into a psychedelic dream about a crystal bird with broken legs; while ‘Louisiana Man’ returns to more conventional country territory with its celebration of a bayou-dwelling, muskrat-trapping family man – narrated by his daughter.

Gentry’s extraordinary ability to inhabit places and personas never flags, whether blasting through gospel standard ‘Sermon’ or daydreaming about reshaping her childhood home (“Bring dynamite and a crane/Blow it up/Start all over again”) on ‘Tobacco Road’.

Nor did it falter in her career, whose successes included hosting her own BBC series, a decade-long Vegas residency (Eat your heart out, Celine Dion) and, perhaps most impressive of all, her retirement. Gentry stepped out of public life in 1982. She has not performed, recorded or given an interview since. Rumour is she lives in Memphis, Tennessee but, if you want to get to know Bobbie, all you need to do is listen to the music.












Related Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobbie_Gentry


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