Happy Release Day Mercury Rev

Happy release day to Mercury Rev and the brilliant cast of vocalists who reimagined Bobbie Gentry’s unsung classic “The Delta Sweete”. Titled, “The Delta Sweete Revisited”, Mercury Rev are joined by Susanne Sundfør, Vashti Bunyan, Lucinda WilliamsMargo Price, Rachel Goswell, Marissa NadlerPhoebe Bridgers, Hope Sandoval, Norah JonesBeth OrtonCarice van Houten, Laetitia Sadier and Kaela Sinclair!

Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited is Mercury Rev’s committed and affectionate resurrection of an album that anticipated by three decades their own pivotal expedition through transcendental America, 1998’s Deserter’s Songs. From their recording lair in New York’s Catskill Mountains, the founding core of Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper with Jesse Chandler (previously in the Texas group Midlake) honour Gentry’s creative triumph with spacious invention and hallucinatory flair. And they are not alone. Gentry’s stories and original resolve are brought to new vocal life and empowerment by a vocal cast of women from across modern rock and its alternative paths: among them, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval; Laetitia Sadier, formerly of Stereolab; Marissa Nadler; Margo Price, the fiery new country star with a punk-rock heart; and Norway’s Susanne Sundfør, who cuts through “Tobacco Road” with arctic-Nico poise as the Rev’s trademark technicolor orchestration sweeps us towards the penultimate poignant love lorn wash of Beth Orton’s “Courtyard” and into the melancholy mystery of “Ode to Billie Joe” from America’s other grand southern belle Lucinda Williams.

On the 1968 LP, Gentry opened with a call to jubilant order, “Okolona River Bottom Band,” like she was leading a barn-dance union of the Rolling Stones and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. Norah Jones takes that entrance here with her own sultry command, like Sarah Vaughan at the head of a slow-blooming choir. In “Sermon,” Margo Price sings like a survivor through Mercury Rev’s explosion of colour and groove: a specialty throughout the band’s history as recently as 2015’s The Light in You going back through 1995’s See You on the Other Side.

Gentry is still very present in the changes. Her seesaw of pride and hurt in the melancholy blur of “Penduli Pendulum” (“When goodbye serves as/My one amusement”) is even more explicit with the sophisticated intimacy of Vashti Bunyan—a once-elusive voice from Britain’s psychedelic-folk boom—set against the effervescent arc of Kaela Sinclair, now in the electronic project M83. And in “Courtyard,” a despairing finale of strings and guitar arpeggios on Gentry’s LP, Mercury Rev build a striking Delta Krautrock in which the English singer Beth Orton wanders, like Gentry, through a ruin of profound loss and treasured memory.

“Ode to Billie Joe” was not on the ‘68 Delta Sweete. But Mercury Rev go back to that dinner table with Lucinda Williams, and it is an inspired bond, calling up the ghosts and questions of a South still very much with us. Indeed, Gentry—who retired from recording and performing in the Seventies—reportedly lives only a couple hours’ drive from the bridge that made her famous, while the spirits she set loose in The Delta Sweete are as restless and compelling as they were 50 years ago.