The Delta Sweete (Deluxe Edition)

The Delta Sweete (Deluxe Edition)

Listeners (and, likely, executives at Capitol Records) looking for a smash sequel to Bobbie Gentry’s iconic “Ode to Billie Joe” on her sophomore album were disappointed: The album flopped on the charts, with just one single—the groovy album opener, “Okolona River Bottom Band”—that became a modest hit. Critics, though, had reason to rejoice. Gentry leaned hard into the eccentric, shadowy, Deep South sound she’d established with her earthshaking debut on her second LP, a concept album depicting her upbringing in Mississippi (a “sweete” of songs, as it were). The resulting project is fiercely idiosyncratic, with spoken-word vignettes, work songs, sweet ballads, and brash pop tunes sharing space on the LP. Gentry’s laconic delivery, which barely hinted at a Southern drawl, gave a seductive flair even to songs about picking cotton on a chain gang as she turned those unsavory slices of Americana into timely pop arrangements listeners couldn’t stand to turn off. There are idyllic visions of rural life on the album: “Mornin’ Glory” sounds like some humid, wisteria-scented dawn breeze through some country house, with Gentry’s voice fuzzing out like she literally just woke up (she even yawns). Mostly, though, it’s a bit darker—or at least more chaotic. The quickly rapped “Sermon” has the air of a threat, while “Reunion” is practically avant-garde in its many-layered soundscape of a family gathering. Gentry’s songwriting remained as evocative and opaque as ever on this album, prompting analysis and interpretation with no clear answers. The lush strings that bookend each track add a cinematic air, lending the album the feeling of a score to some torrid Tennessee Williams adaptation. Somewhere between a country blues, contemporary R&B, and experimental pop, The Delta Sweete was ambitious and totally different than anything Gentry’s peers were making—a decidedly Southern synthesis that was still larger than life.

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