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Mercury Rev - Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited CD (album) cover


Mercury Rev


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4.00 | 1 ratings

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4 stars Mercury Rev is one of those bands that never fails to surprise. Moving easily from dream-pop to noise rock to psychedelic rock to electronic, they cover all bases while still retaining their experimental uniqueness all the while. So, with the release of their new album 'Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited', they take a long ignored and forgotten album, and try to bring it back out into the light to get the attention that they feel it deserves.

Of course, most everyone knows the song 'Ode to Billy Joe' which was quite successful in its time, but when the album 'The Delta Sweete' was originally released, it fell between the folk rock albums released by Bob Dylan and The Byrds 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo', and they ended up taking all of the attention away from Gentrie's album, which also deserved attention for its story telling detail and dark folk-country style. Who would have thought that Mercury Rev would be the ones to revive it? However, knowing that Jesse Chandler, one of Mercury Rev's core musicians, also played with 'Midlake' (listed on the Archives under Prog Folk) has experience with this style of music, and of course Jonathan Donahue and Sean 'Grasshopper' Mackowiak both appreciate exploring new territory, so they got together several female artists, some well known and current and others more up-and-coming, to sing the vocals for the 12 songs on the album. We end up with an album with respected musicians like Norah Jones, Hope Sandoval, Margo Price, Beth Orton and Lucinda Williams among others contributing their talents to this project.

Since I am a fan of Mercury Rev and also love alternative country/indie folk (secondary to Prog Rock of course), I was naturally drawn to this album, which was released in February of 2019. I am a little ashamed that it slipped by my radar for a few months, but when I ran across a listing for this album while updating Mercury Rev's discography for Prog Archives, I ran across this album and was completely intrigued. Right off the bat, Norah Jones lends her vocals to 'Oklona River Bottom Band'. With her airy and mysterious vocals with her jazz-inclined harmonics and sensibilities (also her own foray into indie-folk with her band 'Little Willies'), she give just the right amount of sultry, humid atmosphere. The psychedelic leanings of Mercury Rev give the exact amount of dark mystery that surround the original record, but in this remake, the sound is nicely updated and made current. Synth and piano flourishes are fitted in perfectly to the smoldering emotions behind the song.

Another big surprise is the cover of Luther Dixon's 'Big Boss Man' done with Gentry's attitude, but sung by Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) and with the mix of electronic effects, piano and traditional instruments, the song feels more lush than it does bluesy, but there is nothing wrong with that, it ends up being a lovely cover. Rachel Goswell (from the shoegaze band 'Slowdive') does the vocal for 'Reunion', and we get to hear her full voice at a fuller volume than what we usually hear from her. The track moves with more hesitancy, with sultry harmonica and a dirty western flair, but also with a less traditional style, while snippets of a child's taunting song echo in the melody. An interesting choice for a vocalist comes next in Carice van Houten, who played the red witch in 'Game of Thrones'. She has also released a few solo albums, but for most people, this might be the first time hearing her voice. She covers 'Parchman Farm' which starts abruptly with loud effects, and becoming very psychedelic-like, more than anything that has come before on this album. The use of the effects, traditional instruments and psychedelic music give this a 'spaghetti-western' feel and van Houten's vocals match it perfectly. Sultry and mysterious, just like you would imagine Melisandre would sing.

'Mornin' Glory' is a bit brighter, and has a Janis Ian vibe to it. It is sung by 'Sterolab's' Laetitia Sadler and her voice blends well with the more symphonic feel of the song, heavy with orchestration effects, it gives the feeling of an old soundtrack song from the 60's, nice and expressive especially in the instrumentation. 'Sermon' is vocalized by the alt-country star Margo Price, who has worked a lot with Jack White and Third Man Records as of late. Margo has that old country star style, and her voice works perfectly for this dark country sound. Her vocals are surrounded by a sparser instrumental background, allowing her dramatic storytelling talent to shine through, as she carries the track along. The instrumentals are very sustained and layered, but kept to the background. 'Tobacco Road' is covered by Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfor. Her vocals deal well with the minor key and also swell very nicely when needed, you can hear why she is such a huge star in her home country, and a slight resemblance to Adele, but with a much wider range as is shown in this track. The flavors and styles change throughout the track, yet the vocals and instrumentation move along seamlessly.

At this point, the next three tracks take on a more experimental feel, but this also gives some depth and variety to the album. They tend to venture away from the originals with a psychedelic feel, yet orchestral in nature, although it is all done with keyboards and other effects, the feeling is full and interesting. Beth Orton, who is already known for mixing folk and electronic genres, does an excellent rendition of 'Courtyard' over meandering, yet appropriate instrumental background. The combination of her and Mercury Rev is perfect, her powerful vocals cutting through everything else. Beautiful! 'Ode to Billie Joe', the final track, and most popular of course, is sung by alt-country artist Lucinda Williams. Her vocals have a sultry, yet punkish attitude on this cover, with even more attitude than the original. Typically, I like Williams vocals, but I almost feel they are a little too forced here as she tries too hard to bring character to the song, which really didn't need that additional personality. The music itself is as excellent as it is through the entire album, just the right amount of everything.

Through all of these guest vocalists, the thing tying things together quite successfully is the instrumental backdrops, performed, of course, by Mercury Rev. They use traditional and electronic instruments quite well together, and it works amazingly well. Seeing that each song is sung by a different female artist, one can worry that this album will just end up like a bad various artist collection, disjointed and inconsistent. However, this is not the case, and that is all because of the consistency of Mercury Rev's instrumental accompaniment, which is more than just accompaniment, it is the anchor for this album. Most of the vocal performances are excellent, though a few of them suffer on the last third of the album, the one thing that remains high quality and amazing is the instrumentation. So you get so much more than a various artists collection, you get a concise and tight album. The music is quite orchestral, but includes some wonderful use of traditional instruments and it all works quite splendidly.

The big question is, how to rate this album. Sure there is that touch of psychedlia to it all, and some experimentation, but it is not really progressive. Most of the performances are perfect as is the instrumentation which gives the songs brand new life without taking away their original attitude. It is mostly quite masterfully done. But, since it isn't prog, it can't be considered essential, yet it deserves better than only 3 stars. So, I give it an excellent rating as it is something that fits well in any rock music (folk music) collection. Folk prog? Well, possibly, but not quite. 4 stars, anyway. Definitely one for the alt-country, indie-folk lover, who likes a little psychedelic flair to their music.

TCat | 4/5 |


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