Mercury Rev, Beth Orton & Marissa Nadler on Resurrecting Bobbie Gentry’s Lost Classic

He can't bear in mind precisely when or the place he picked up a used copy of Bobbie Gentry's unsung 1968 traditional The Delta Sweete on vinyl, however Mercury Rev singer/guitarist Jonathan Donahue remembers what drew him to it. "It has a cool cowl," he says of the album artwork, which contains a translucent portrait of Gentry's face superimposed on a abandoned, dilapidated nation shack. "And I in all probability assumed 'Ode to Billie Joe' was on it," he provides, referring to Gentry's mysterious 1967 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, which entranced him as a baby.

Years later, Donahue and his Mercury Rev mates have paid homage to that album with The Delta Sweete Revisited, a song-by-song tribute due Friday (Feb. eight) on Partisan Records. The album contains a bevy of famous feminine vocalists singing lead, together with Norah Jones, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Beth Orton, Margo Price, Vashti Bunyan, rising indie star Marissa Nadler and others. And, in contrast to the unique album, it features a model of "Ode to Billie Joe," carried out by Lucinda Williams, serving as each a bonus monitor and an entry level for many who solely recognized Gentry from her chart-topper.

The timing couldn't be higher. Coincidentally, the album arrives as there's renewed curiosity in Gentry, the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter who hit huge within the late '60s. She topped the Hot 100 with "Ode to Billie Joe" and the Billboard 200 with the album of the identical identify, however walked away from the music enterprise within the late '70s after releasing seven albums and scoring 11 singles on the Hot 100. Last July, in honor of Gentry's 76th birthday, the eight-CD field set The Girl from Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters was launched to extensive acclaim. Influential British month-to-month Mojo known as it the reissue of the yr.

Initially, Mercury Rev's up to date model of Gentry's second album, The Delta Sweete -- which started to take form in 2015 -- was a labor of affection the band thought would go no additional than a cassette recording made for associates. Then Donahue performed it for Simon Raymonde, the pinnacle of the band's British label, Bella Union. "He stated, 'My God, I need to put this out!' And that was the start of understanding that perhaps we have been onto one thing rather a lot deeper than we suspected."

Though the band initially recorded the album in upstate New York with Donahue singing, as per typical on the band's earlier albums, he ultimately realized that the venture known as for one thing totally different. "I sang a couple of of the songs, however it turned clear – although no singer needs to confess this – that I wasn't proper for it. As lovely because the songs have been sounding and as fantastically as they have been written…. Initially, it's a troublesome capsule to swallow, however my voice was not proper for it. And then it turned even clearer male voice was not proper for it."

After that realization, the band determined to draft numerous feminine vocalists to contribute to the venture. Some of the songs recorded with Donahue's voice have been despatched to the visitor singers together with the disclaimer, "Don't hearken to my information vocal! You can do your personal factor. You're a significantly better singer than I'm."

The ladies took different approaches to recording their vocals – typically in recording studios with the members of Mercury Rev wanting on, whereas others took a DIY strategy, recording at their houses.

British singer-songwriter Beth Orton took the previous route. "I used to be in New York in March and I went right into a studio and recorded it there," she recollects. "We solely had a day after which all of their lovely faces confirmed up and out of the blue, there we're doing this monitor and so they simply inspired me each step of the best way. They had their heads within the vocal sales space going, 'Yeah, yeah, that's nice. Do that.' They have been actually encouraging."

While the members of Mercury Rev gave the friends free reign on their performances, they -- not the singers -- matched up the vocalists with particular songs. "I wished to do 'Morning Glory' and after I received 'Courtyard,' I believed, 'What am I going to do with this?,'" Orton says. Eventually, she allowed her creativeness and the lyrics to take over and she or he delivered a shocking efficiency.

As for "Morning Glory," that's carried out by Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, and Orton approves. "I don't actually know her after which I heard it," she says. "I wrote her and stated I used to be jealous of anybody that received to sing that music and I heard her model and it was so excellent. I used to be like, 'Oh my God, they actually knew what they have been doing after they picked the songs for every individual.'"

Marissa Nadler took a unique strategy. She recorded her vocal for "Refractions" by candlelight in her residence studio in her then-apartment in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Nadler notes she recorded the vocal for her hottest music on Spotify, "Leave the Light On" (Demo)" from her 2014 compilation Before July: Demos & Unreleased Songs, with an inner microphone on a laptop computer, and so she had no qualms in regards to the DIY strategy. "I've an honest microphone and Logic," she says. "It's the wonders of expertise. I despatched them the uncooked WAV file and so they combined it in and after I heard it combined I used to be fairly impressed the way it sounded prefer it was recorded in the identical room."

Nadler says she wasn't conscious of album's full forged of visitor vocalists till the press launch went out. "I'm normally just a little bit extra within the indie world," she says. "I don't think about Lucinda Williams an indie musician at this level. I believe she's type of like a legend, and identical with Hope Sandoval. I believe lots of people are going to find different singers. Like Phoebe Bridgers might be new to people who find themselves accustomed to Lucinda, and individuals who like Beth Orton or Hope Sandoval would perhaps like my music. It's put collectively by males, however it's an actual homage to the feminine vocal."

Orton has comparable emotions. "This is a very respectful and dignified homage to an extremely good lady," she says. "I'm so satisfied to be part of it."

Though Mercury Rev has prior to now recorded covers by a various listing of artists, together with Sly & the Family Stone, Black Sabbath, John Lennon, Daniel Johnston and even the songbook customary "I Only Have Eyes for You," these have been largely as B-sides and/or bonus tracks; this marks the primary time within the band's 30-year profession they've launched into a full album of covers. As Donahue explains, it simply appeared like the precise venture on the proper time.

Gentry had huge success with "Ode to Billie Joe" and the album of the identical identify, affording her the inventive freedom to discover her muse on The Delta Sweete. While the album is critically acclaimed, it was a industrial disappointment, falling to crack the highest half of the Billboard 200. Yet the idea album about life within the South, mixing eight Gentry originals with 4 covers (Mercury Rev opted to not embody Dough Kershaw's "Louisiana Man"), resonated with the band. "Even in its time it was perceived very out of time," Donahue says. "It was perceived very out of step…. Here was Bobbie doing one thing conceptual. It had theatrical arch of a whole album. The method the album was handled jogged my memory of a few of our personal albums, particularly [1995's] See You on the Other Side. It simply by no means appeared to slot in the second when it was launched."

"Of all of the concepts that Mercury Rev would have, this one appeared so applicable," Donahue provides. "We may have lined Sgt. Pepper's or The White Album or one thing that everyone knew, had an opinion on and will sing alongside [with], however right here's Mercury Rev overlaying one thing most individuals have by no means even heard of. At least we all know we're not doing this for industrial causes. Otherwise we might have chosen one thing everybody knew, like Thriller. This could be very Rev applicable."

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