Vinyl Corner : Bobbie Gentry ‘The Delta Sweete’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. In a very special edition of Vinyl Corner, we wind the clock back to 1968 and take a look at the luxurious new expanded reissue of Bobbie Gentry’s ‘The Delta Sweete’ due to hit shelves on July 31st.

The Music:

Bobbie Gentry’s current status as a critics’ favourite and cult innovator largely rests upon word of mouth. After all, having released her debut LP over a half-century ago and having actualised a permanent musical retirement in 1981, there’s been relatively little in the intervening years to keep Gentry in the minds of even the deepest listeners. Yet her legacy lives on; ‘The Delta Sweete’ remains a niche yet potent artefact fifty two years on from its 1968 release, the ambition of its sonic eclecticism and lyrical focus impressive even now. Spurred on by the significant commercial success of her debut LP ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ the year before, Gentry found herself with a rare degree of creative autonomy as she pondered where to go next. ‘The Delta Sweete’ is the kind of scarce yet precious record which could only have been made by an artist with fame significant enough to warrant an ample budget, yet artistic aspirations wild enough to conceive of something genuinely bold. Fifty-plus years on, ‘The Delta Sweete’ still sounds like little else; thematically bonded with the land in which Gentry was raised, this is a record whose very DNA is infused with the culture and ideologies of the US South, yet it never feels singularly definable by any one genre. Country music is certainly an overriding influence here, yet so too are there strands of snappily-arranged soul, lilting folk and eerie yet drowsy chamber-pop. The resultant record is visceral in its emotional content and sufficiently singular in its execution to remain starkly arresting over fifty years on from its release. This expanded reissue marks the first time ‘The Delta Sweete’ has been reissued since the early ’70s and, to mark the occasion, a new stereo remix has been commissioned for the original album and a whole LP’s-worth of bonus material has been added. In the case of all-too-many expanded reissues, the bonus material can feel extraneous, as if little more than padding to justify yet another rerelease; in ‘The Delta Sweete’s case, though, the rarities included add much to the original album’s impact. Many of the LP’s key cuts appear on the second disc as stunning solo acoustic demos which only accentuate the quiet power of Gentry’s voice and the subtle sophistication of her writing. Indeed, they’re so impressive that – in many cases – they’re no less gripping than the original LP versions, despite a spartan presentation which sits in stark contrast to the original LP’s far more ornate arrangements.

The Pressing:

As mentioned before, ‘The Delta Sweete’ appears in fully remixed form here, shedding valuable new light on an album which is likely to be more than familiar to many of those potentially interested in acquiring this reissue. The decision to fully remix the album is reflective of a larger trend within the industry for lending a (sometimes) much-needed handful of modern spit-and-polish to vintage recordings whose original timbres can now feel limited by the aged technology with which they were captured. Although certain such remixes seem largely redundant, this reappraisal of ‘The Delta Sweete’ lends a welcome clarity to the album’s sonic presentation. Everything has its place; the brass of opener Okolona River Bottom Band rattles with all the snappish intensity it always should’ve possessed and the luscious strings of the stunning Refractions shimmer no less impressively than Gentry‘s own vocal parts, which are by turns both sultry and playful. The vinyl pressing itself is also impressive; both LPs are weighty black slabs of wax easily coming in at a full 180 grams. They’ve been pressed by the Czech Republic’s GZ Media and although we at Vinyl Corner have often noted that their output can sometimes suffer from surface noise issues, no such problems are present here. Both records play well, boasting low noise floors which lend these subtle songs all the room to breathe they could ever ask for. Across the course of the four sides, we did pick up on a few very rare errant crackles, but nothing which even came close to interrupting ‘The Delta Sweete’s singular atmosphere.

The Packaging:

It’s evident that UMC, who have released this reissue, took great care in presenting the audio component of the ‘The Delta Sweete’ in the best possible light but, of course, its packaging and presentation is also a key component of the release, such as it would be in the case of any such reissue. Fortunately, it’s clear that just as much time and effort have been placed into producing an attractive, informative collector’s piece with this release as were placed into highlighting the strengths of the music itself. The striking original cover art is reproduced in full – yet it now finds itself spread out across a high-quality, wide-spined glossy gatefold sleeve. It is easily the most attractively-designed cover we’ve written about here on Vinyl Corner in quite a while a while and the cardstock used feels sufficiently substantial to lend an air of weighty permanence to this reissue. The inner gatefold spread has been put to excellent use, boasting an informative and newly-commissioned essay to go along with a number of rare images of Gentry herself. Record collectors will doubtless be pleasantly surprised to find a nod to the scarce UK original release of the album in the form of the flipbacks which appear across both panels of the inner-gatefold spread. The records are also found within high quality printed inner sleeves, which lends this already luxurious presentation an extra element of finesse.  As with many such sleeves, it’s always worth carefully removing the records within and inserting them into generic polylined inners for preservation purposes but there’s no denying that these printed inner sleeves add a further layer of class to the fittingly sophisticated presentation of this reissue.

Final Thoughts:

‘The Delta Sweete’ is a decisively singular statement from an artist who today enjoys a fervent and well-deserved cult status. Placing this album back in ready availability after decades out of print, this expanded reissue offers the definitive vision of perhaps Gentry‘s most revered recording.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!