In 1968, just a year after she’d topped the charts with her quietly revolutionary “Ode To Billie Joe,” Bobbie Gentry released a groundbreaking album considered by many to be the true masterwork of her career: ‘The Delta Sweete.’ While ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ was a commercial and critical smash that challenged both the artistic and patriarchal conventions of the era’s country conservatism, ‘The Delta Sweete’ was destined for obscurity. A sophisticated, swampy, country-rock opera examining contemporary life in the Deep South, the record was decidedly ahead of its time in concept and execution. Largely unappreciated by both radio and press, it never charted in any meaningful way, languishing in secondhand shops and collectors’ basements for nearly four decades before it ever even appeared CD. In spite of its poor sales, the record was a talisman for those who got their hands on it. If you knew, you knew, and much like ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ or Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace,’ the record inspired passion, infatuation, even obsession. Now, half a century later, Mercury Rev and an all-star cast of women (including Norah Jones, Margo Price, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucinda Williams) have resurrected the collection with ‘The Delta Sweete Revisited,’ a brilliant, heartfelt, track-for-track reimagination that honors the original album’s pioneering spirit while simultaneously offering fresh perspective and modern insight.
“Through the years, there was just a momentum that kept bringing me back to ‘The Delta Sweete,’” says Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, a founding member of the hugely influential experimental rock outfit. “I couldn’t help but feel my heart go out for something that I’m sure Bobbie felt quite close to but seemed to be utterly unreadable to popular culture at the time. It was almost as if it was some kind of Sanskrit music that people had forgotten by the late 60’s.”
‘The Delta Sweete Revisited’ is about more than looking backwards, though. The album arrives at a pivotal moment in our national conversation about the roles, rights, and recognition of women, and it’s hard to imagine a better framework for that discussion than Gentry’s lost masterpiece. In his insightful liner notes for the new collection, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke describes Gentry as a barrier-breaking feminist “in vision, deed and success amid the strict, paternal order of the country-music industry,” and indeed her legacy lives on through each of the artists who contribute their voices to this album.
“You can feel that Bobbie was taking a musical stand when she made ‘The Delta Sweete,’ and you have to respect the energy behind that because it’s carried on for fifty years,” says Donahue. “The women on this album tapped directly into that.”
Over the years, ‘The Delta Sweete’ had developed a similar hold over Donahue’s bandmates—fellow founding member Sean “Grasshopper” Mackowiak and more recent addition Jesse Chandler (Midlake, Bnqt)—and so in 2015, they began toying with a rather crazy idea. What if Mercury Rev recorded the entire album from top to bottom? Not for release or anything, mind you, but just for the love of the songs, for the purely artistic sake of creating something they could enjoy and share with friends who felt as strongly about the music as they did. Over the course of the next three years, a gorgeous series of sweeping, inventive interpretations burst to life in the band’s Catskills studio, faithful to the emotional resonance of the original songs but naturally filtered through Mercury Rev’s singularly daring musical psyche.
“We never for a second thought of the original as some abandoned shipwreck that we were going to plunder and raze,” explains Donahue. “We had no desire to disturb it or go down there with a giant paintbrush to dust off all the accumulated years. We weren’t looking to interrogate it like some musical artifact. We just wanted to illuminate it with our own musical lamp.”
The project quickly took on a life of its own, and soon the band had assembled an unmatched roster of women from across a broad range of genres to lend their vocals to what NPR describes as Mercury Rev’s “spectral new arrangements.” With a different singer on each track, it would be easy for a collection like this to come across as disjointed, but instead ‘The Delta Sweete Revisited’ feels beautifully cohesive, with each vocalist illuminating a unique facet of Gentry’s complicated artistry.
“It was essential to have all these strong feminine personalities on these songs because it was the only way that three men from upstate New York were ever going to be able to approach this album,” says Donahue. “The female voice is the one thing that cuts straight to the heart of everything in this world, the one thing that seems to penetrate every bit of matter that’s ever been created. Jesse and Grasshopper and I all have deep emotional connections to the music, but we’re ultimately coming to it with a limited, male, five-sense frequency band. Once we started hearing our recordings with all of the women singing in their own sincerity, it brought everything well above ultraviolet to us. It was more than we could have hoped for.”
Since forming in 1989, Mercury Rev has made a career out of boldly exploring the fringes of artistic perception, channeling colors and sounds and visions that always seem just beyond our mortal reach. The Guardian hailed the group as “a rarity in indie rock: a band who have continually evolved their sound, pushing at the boundaries of what rock music actually means over 25 years, borrowing from jazz, funk, doo-wop, techno, folk and more along the way,” while Rolling Stone praised their “majestic chaos,” and the BBC lauded their “shimmering psychedelic pop, immersive indie-rock, [and] spectacularly engrossing passages of sumptuous instrumentation.” The band’s 1991 debut, ‘Yerself Is Steam,’ landed on Pitchfork’s rundown of the Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time, and their 1998 breakthrough, ‘Deserter’s Songs,’ was named NME’s Album of the Year upon its release. Major festival and television performances around the world solidified their status as that rare group capable of straddling the line between mainstream appeal and progressive musical and technological experimentation, but the band’s journey was also a tumultuous one, full of lineup changes, setbacks, and heartbreak.
“We made a record in 1995 called ‘See You On The Other Side,’ and that, to us, was the gem,” reflects Donahue. “No one else seemed to understand it at the time, though, and looking back, I think there’s an emotional parallel between our experience with that album and Bobbie’s experience with ‘The Delta Sweete.’ Listening to Bobbie’s record and understanding the context, we could feel our own sympathetic strings being strummed.”
Ultimately, ‘The Delta Sweete Revisited’ is about much more than recognition or reward. It’s a tribute to the enduring legacy of an artist who forged a path for so many to follow, a testament to the power of our connection to the music that speaks to our most intimate selves, a timely contribution to a dialogue about autonomy and equality that stretches far beyond the art itself.
“When we heard the final playback of Bobbie’s songs with each of these women singing, we realized we were part of something much bigger than ourselves,” concludes Donahue. “As an artist, there’s nothing that tops that.”
Read David Fricke's liner notes here.
Partisan Records no longer has the capacity to accept unsolicited demos.
Our Commitment To Privacy:
The Partisan Records website gathers the following information and uses it in the following ways. We do not pass any information about site users to third parties.
1) Mailing list: We have a mailing list to inform people about new artists, pre-orders, tour dates, etc. You can unsubscribe through the footer of the newsletter at any time. Your email address will remain private and will not be sold.
2) Store: We gather a number of different pieces of information in order to complete orders, like billing name and address, delivery name and address and credit card or payment details. Once the order is processed, all payment details are deleted for your security.
3) Statistics: The site gathers basic statistics such as the country from which your internet connection originates and the computer/browser combination you are using. We use this information to make sure that the site works with the browsers/computers you are using.
How To Contact Us:
Should you have other questions or concerns about these privacy policies, please send us an email at email@example.com.
WHAT IF I WANT/NEED TO RETURN AN ITEM I'VE PURCHASED FROM YOU?
We will replace any factory-defective item purchased from us within a reasonable time frame with a fresh copy of that title. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us the order #, artist, title and format of the defective item. Once the return has been approved by email, we'll send you a replacement copy.
If you gave someone a purchased item as a gift and it turns out it’s something they already have, we will accept the unopened/unplayed item for credit on a future order (or simply refund, depending on the circumstances). The same policy as above applies — email us at email@example.com and inform us of your order #, desire to return the item, etc.
We do not offer refunds on digital purchases. If you have any issues with your digital downloads (item not opening, files not playing, etc.), please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’M A WRITER, RADIO DJ, PROMOTER, LOOKING TO BE INVOLVED W/ ONE OF YOUR ARTISTS. HOW DO I REACH YOU?
Please reach out to the below contacts for press / radio. If you can’t find the contact you’re looking for, feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com.
Radio Inquiries: Dan Yocom, Partisan Records, firstname.lastname@example.org
Press Inquiries: Bryant Kitching, Partisan Records, email@example.com
I’D LIKE YOU TO SIGN ME OR MY BAND. HOW DO I MAKE THAT HAPPEN?
We wish we could accept submissions and listen to everything. Unfortunately, we no longer have the bandwidth to review and respond to unsolicited demos. Please do not send physical demos to our office, or reach out over social media. Demos sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will be filed away until we are actively looking for new artists.
WHO SHOULD I REACH OUT TO IN ORDER TO LICENSE A SONG FROM ONE OF YOUR ARTISTS?
You can email our head of sync, licensing, and brand partnerships: Catie Ginsburg, email@example.com.
I WANT TO INTERN FOR PARTISAN RECORDS. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Please note that all internships at Partisan Records are unpaid. However, we can offer school credit. If you’d still like to intern for us, please e-mail your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org and include the desired dates of your internship, days of the week and times that you’re available to come into the office, a brief paragraph about why you’d like to work for Partisan, and your top five favorite records of all time.
WHAT IS YOUR SHIPPING & RETURN POLICY?
Customers should select the shipping option that best suits their needs. Shipping costs are calculated by the weight of the product plus the weight of the shipping materials, and vary depending on the carrier (USPS, UPS, FedEx) selected by the customer. Partisan Records makes every effort to ensure that our products are shipped at the lowest reasonable cost to customers, while also providing the most protection possible for the goods. Unfortunately, we cannot accept responsibility for damages incurred during shipping, though we will help file a claim, and always replace any factory-defective items purchased from our store within a reasonable time frame.
I CAN’T DOWNLOAD MY ALBUM AFTER I BOUGHT IT, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
First, please check that your download url is spelled correctly. Once you’ve confirmed that the link is correct, please try it in a different browser and make sure that you have a strong internet connect. If you have already downloaded your order and are receiving a message along the lines of “compressed (zipped) folder is damaged or corrupt”, open your brand new web browser, log back into our site and try again. If this doesn’t resolve your issue, please e-mail email@example.com and we can further assist you from there.