- 28 Feb 19
MERCURY REV OVERHAUL COUNTRY CURIO
Bobbie Gentry’s profile is higher now than it’s been in an age thanks to last year’s mammoth The Girl From Chickasaw County Complete Capitol Masters box which gathered up pretty much everything with her name on it. Buried in the middle is the “forgotten masterpiece” (it says here) The Delta Sweete, a sort of a country-soul opera based on Gentry’s Mississippi childhood. Released as a follow up to world-wide smash Ode To Billy Joe, it died on its arse and now, 51 years later, Mercury Rev have decided, in their wisdom, to re-record the whole thing.
I’ve always been immune to The Rev’s charms. Yes, I know everyone loves 1998’s critical high-point Deserter’s Songs but I can’t be doing with all that “musical” saw playing and Tim Burton-esque fairground melodic whimsey, which just rubs me up the wrong way, so I duly found this updating of the original’s earthiness with the band’s usual ethereality a bit hit and miss.
Jonathan Donahue’s voice, never nature’s strongest instrument, is wisely replaced with various guest vocalists - Norah Jones is strong on ‘Okolona River Bottom Band’ although the horn section from Gentry’s version is missed but Hope Sandoval’s ‘Big Boss Man’ is a bit too laid back for its own good and Vashti Bunyan sounds like she needs a lie down herself. On the other hand, Margo Price’s turn on ‘Sermon’ is a vast improvement and Beth Orton does a nice job on ‘Courtyard’. The best thing on offer is Lucinda William’s voice - an instrument that could find the soul in ‘Baby Shark’ - on ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, included here instead of Doug Kershaw’s ‘Louisiana Man’.
It’s not bad, it just kind of passes by. I suspect fans of the original record and Mercury Rev’s eccentricities may have a better time of it.