Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited
- David Pollock
- 6 February 2019
Beautiful tribute album gives contemporary sound to their own country roots with help from a great cast of collaborators
Four years after their last record The Light in You (2015) and a whole 28 years since their first, psychedelic and explicitly psych-country indie rockers Mercury Rev have torn up the script and tried something entirely different. Singer Jonathan Donahue – he of the creaking, lovelorn vocal style that's baked into the bones of this group's sound – has taken a back seat alongside guitarist Grasshopper, leaving the vocal parts open for a procession of guest singers.
They're here to pay tribute to the second album by Mississippi singer and songwriter Bobbie Gentry, The Delta Sweete, which was released 51 years ago and was a pioneering record; both in terms of Gentry's position in the 60s' industry as a woman who controlled her own material as composer and producer, and as an early foray into the sense of otherworldly Southern mystique which eventually birthed Mercury Rev. Every one of the vocalists appearing here is female, and each of them owes a varying level of debt to Gentry for their sound and style.
In Vashti Bunyan – who sings a gorgeous version of 'Penduli Pendulum', washed in lullaby piano, strings and harmonica, alongside Florida's Kaela Sinclair – there is one artist whose career stretches back to the time that Delta Sweete was released, while Lucinda Williams got into music just as Gentry was getting out in the late 70s; her take on 'Ode to Billie Joe' (Gentry's biggest hit, although it wasn't on Delta Sweete) is hollering and righteous. Norah Jones' gritty version of 'Okolona River Bottom Band' adds further star quality.
Elsewhere, there are contemporary voices and others which have gone widely unheard for too long. Hope Sandoval (sometime of Mazzy Star) has a rich twang on 'Big Boss Man' which you might not want to stop listening to; Laetitia Sadier's 'Mornin' Glory' reverberates warmly amid old Hollywood strings; Marissa Nadler's 'Refractions' is a swooning fantasia, featuring some trademark Mercury Rev sci-fi effects; and Beth Orton's majestic 'Courtyard' begs the question, why is she not still the major star her talent deserves? It's an enchanting, affirmative, beautiful record, and credit to the backing band for playing facilitators and not scene-stealers.
Out Fri 8 Feb.