Bobbie Gentry’s album The Delta Sweete was released in 1968, and it was recorded with unprecedented freedom on Gentry’s part that everyone made something different of it. But one thing everyone agreed on was how effortlessly the Mississippi aura enveloped you, smelling the rust from the old barnyard pickup truck and feeling the tickle of hay blowing against your skin all throughout. So what happens when experimental art-rock group Mercury Rev, more known for making shoegaze-y meditation regimens than dirty, distressing, Southern blues makes a tribute redo? As it turns out, with the help of an army of diversely talented singers, something equal parts wonderful, aspirational, and conflicting.
The aspiration starts out with Norah Jones featured on the remake of “Oklona River Bottom Band”, where you can really get a sense of what Thorpe, Donahue and the boys were trying to go for with this. It’s basically taking Gentry’s atmosphere and slapping something like a D&D style Temporal Stasis on it. However, the varying strengths of the singers on deck means that some songs are going to be translated differently than others, and these translations don’t always quite go right. One example is Rachel Goswell’s remake of “Reunion”, which errs too closely to the shoegaze spectrum with all of the superfluous reverb which is very unsuited to the ethic of the original Gentry recording, and a lot of the snippets from Fargo on the original track get lost in the process. When Carice Van Houten enters in “Parchment Farm”, however, the picture brightens dramatically, with Donahue’s guitar licks and Thorpe’s flute accompaniment accenting Van Houten’s voice excellently while she tells the tale of a roving hustler.
The peak of this revisit, however, occurs in “Sermon”, where Nashville-native Margo Price slows down the gospel service to a crawl, accompanied by instrumentals that I like to describe as psychedelic brimstone, though some could probably find a better term. This is the proper way to do a song justice and it really makes the pores in your forehead burst open when you think about all the people in your life that you’ve wronged. Susanne Sundfør and Vashti Bunyan also do an incredible job at preserving the ethic during “Tobacco Road” and “Penduli Pendulum” while incorporating Mercury Rev’s signature slowed down and dazed out soundscape throughout. Like I said before, though, some translations don’t make as much sense as others, and on “Morning Glory”, while I very much appreciated Laetitia Sadier’s bold step out of her vocal comfort zone, her timbre really sounded at odds with the drawl that the instrumentals were producing at times, and had a similar over-layering problem as Goswell’s remake.
The main takeaway from this is a revisit that adds a nifty dreamscape element to Gentry’s everyday reality, though the singers’ unique elements did muddle the consistency of the revisit. However, this is a remake that I very much applaud and would recommend others who’ve dabbled in the experimental art rock genre to check out, even if it succeeds more in aspiration than consistency.