Bobbie Gentry “The Delta Sweete”

With its picture of the gorgeous Bobbie Gentry superimposed in monochrome over a falling down shack, The Delta Sweete promises the peculiarly Southern music that Gentry was known for. The Delta Sweete is Bobbie Gentry’s second album, coming on the heels of the tremendous success of one of the most memorable, if bizarre, hits of the 1960s, “Ode to Billy Joe.”

A loosely-formed concept album of sorts, Delta further explores the vagaries of the Mississippi Delta country  of “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Here, Gentry evokes the county fairs and family reunions that would have been events during Gentry’s girlhood, along with the small, everyday moments that made “Ode to Billy Joe” such a classic.

“Okolona River Bottom Band,” a song about a southern talent show, is a veritable travelogue of the Mississippi Delta area, delivered in the husky voice that’s Gentry’s trademark.  It sounds like something from another time, or at least a lost track from one of the Band’s early albums.

“Reunion” is a child’s experience at that most Southern of traditions, the family reunion, complete with gossip, hair pulling, and a finger stuck in a Coke bottle.

Songs like “Penduli Pendulum,” “Courtyard,” and “Jessye’ Lizabeth” don’t lyrically reference the Delta country, but are musically evocative of the South,  from the dog days rhythm of “Penduli Pendulum” and the folk-song like structure of “Courtyard” and “Jessye’ Lizabeth.”

“Sermon,” “Louisiana Man,” and “Tobacco Road” are well-known covers, but are of a piece with the rest of the album, referencing the hellfire and brimstone of a country church service and the hand-to-mouth existence of sharecroppers and trappers.

The strength of The Delta Sweete makes the case for Bobbie Gentry as one of the most underrated and largely forgotten songwriters of the late 1960s-early 1970s era.  Gentry’s episodic lyrics, referential of the South of her girlhood, married to the simple, often melancholic melodies of her music are as arresting today as when they were released, yet most of her catalogue is out-of-print in the U.S.  Even “Ode to Billy Joe,” in its ubiquitousness, is often dismissed as a one-hit-wonder or novelty song.

If you appreciated the husky vocals or the unforgettable lyrics of “Ode to Billy Joe,” The Delta Sweete is worth looking for.

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“Okolona River Bottom Band”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Capitol | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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  • HorseCalledHorse

    You know, the great Jim Ford, who dated Bobbie Gentry, claimed to have written “Ode to Billy Jo”. He said he gave her the song as a gift and took great delight in pointing out that she never had another hit. Ford was known to stretch the truth a little here and there, but still . . .

  • Awesome review, Jeanna! I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for this LP! Love Bobbie’s voice!

  • Len Liechti

    Nice review, Jeana, and so good to see BG featured in these pages. She was a true original who appears to have been suborned all too rapidly from her intriguing Southern roots to the Dark Side of Nashville schmaltz and Las Vegas glitz, and who disappeared from the music scene all too quickly, possibly as a result. I have the comp album Chickasaw Country Child: The Artistry Of Bobbie Gentry, which has an excellent booklet writeup on her musical history compiled by Gary Stewart (that one?). From this it’s clear that her first album Ode To Billie Joe is the rough-edged, downhome Southern real deal, like the single, and The Delta Sweete is a more refined offering of the same with some fine original compositions still recalling the rural culture of the Deep South. My impression is that her recordings after those two are much less art and more showbiz and nowhere near as fulfilling (that awful duet with Glen Campbell, for instance). She was however clearly a pioneering talent, a woman singer with a characterful voice who wrote most of her own material and played a mean gut-strung guitar on her own recordings. Our timeframe sadly precludes many female artists, as back in that day they had so much less opportunity to be as original or innovative as they fortunately and quite rightly do today. Once past Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Janis, it’s hard to think of many other great female rock pioneers. If anyone out there has other female artists from our period in mind they’ll make a welcome addition to these pages.

  • Jeanna

    I’ve read the same Jim Ford story, HCH, and I chalk it up to more of his “Big Mouth USA” tendencies, lol, just because I don’t think he could ever come up with anything as subtle as “Billy Joe.” But I have often wondered how much of an influence each of them was on the other. And speaking of Jim Ford: I have been doing some research on Jim Ford for awhile, and can’t find out if he really is from Kentucky – any insight, anyone?

  • daniel

    Great review. Mojo magazine named ‘The Delta Sweete’ as one of the top 500 of all time in 2000. It was finally re-issued in 2006 by Australia’s Raven Records as a two-fer with’ Local Gentry.’ It has found a new audience with a robust 35,000 copies sold via the internet. Raven claims Gentry as one of their top re-issue catalog sellers.One of great songs of this album was ‘ Refractions’. Pure poetry: its evocative power of a womans nightmare stirs me every time I hear it.The album chugged to #111 on the top 200 pop album chart and sold 200,000 copies with the 1970 re-issue. The single, Oklahona River Bottom Band, made it to #54 pop and sold a quarter of a million copies. For those who insist on placing any stock in the Jim Ford rumor of authoring Ode to Billie Joe, I suggest they go to The Un. of Mississippi web site. They have posted Gentry’s creative rough drafts of the song which she donated to the University in the early 1970’s. They show her creative process and even missing lyrics Capitol edited from the original recording sessions. Gentry charted eleven hot 100 pop singles 1967-1976. Besides the two half million selling Campbell duets, there was Fancy. At #31,pop,#26 country #8 adult contemporary and #65 r&b,it spent 14 weeks (the same run as O.T.B.J) on the hot 100 and sold three quarters of a million copies. It earned Bobbie her 11th grammy nomination While not near the 3.5 million singles of O.T.B.J, still a substantial hit in anyones book.

  • daniel

    Perhaps the greatest song of relevance on’The Delta Sweete’ is ‘Mornin Glory’. Covered by jazz master pianist, Bill Evans, it was a staple on all 1970’s concerts untill his passing in the early 1980’s. It is the lead song on his historic. Live In Tokyo’ album and was one of his favorites.He is considered by many as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, jazz pianists of the 20th century.

  • daniel

    I wanted to discuss Bobbie Gentry’s vital role in popular music. First of all she, she set precedent by taking financial control of her own career. She formed her own production company(Gentry ltd) that produced her B.B.C variety show(1968-71) and her own publishing company(Super Darlin).. She was writing,producing and publishing her own songs in the 1960’s. She wrote close to 100 songs 1967-1978. I know she has been criticized for headling her own Vegas review but she signed the first female million dollar contract in the early 1970’s. It allowed her to maintain her star status without hit records into the early 1980’s when she retired to devote herself to her newborn son. She turned down a multi-million dollar extension at The Desert Inn in 1980. When Capitol Records demanded she sign a second tier artists contract in 1973, she had the financial independence to say no. Indeed ,she retired with an empire that included a sizable portion of The Phoniex Suns basketball team and thousands of acres of prime California farm land. Royalties from Ode to Billie Joe(40 million records sold ,100 plus covers) and Fancy(20 million records sold) still bring her a substantial six figure income yearly.

  • daniel

    For those who love this record, I hope they also find Bobbie’s last studio album, PatchWork. Hailed as a masterpiece upon release and in recent re-issue commentary , it is a gorgeous fusion of many musical styles. Bobbie wrote and produced the entire set. Capitol Records gave the go-ahead based on her banner year of 1970, which saw two top three hits in the U.K and the four month run on the U.S pop singles charts of Fancy. While label heads were thrilled with the sessions, the boys club at Capitol were not happy at the amount of controll she had on the project.It directly challenged some of their positions and their was an insider backlash at the label, which resulted in a lackluster promotion. I got the scoop from a long time a&r man at the label. The single,’ But I Can Get Back’ is a beautiful, confessional lament of life at its surroundings.It charted #38 adult contemporary . The album hovered in the low 200’s on the pop album chart for months just missing the offical chart at#203. Its commerical failure(75,000 copies sold) destroyed her realtionship with Capitol and she would soon pour her massive creative energy into her lavish Vegas act, turning it into one of the powerhouses on the strip for over a decade.

  • Reid

    With all due respect to the writer, it’s hard to take a review seriously when the person writing can’t even spell the main name involved in an epic hit. It’s Billie Joe, not Billy Joe. The rest of the review is OK, but not very detailed and not too insightful about what makes this album an underrated classic.

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