In compiling Bobbie Gentry’s two hard-to-find 1968 LPs, the Australian Raven label has done a service to the American south and its slim yet significant feminist swamp rock scene. Fresh from the breakout success of the strange, symbolic “Ode to Billy Joe,” Miz Gentry crafted in “The Delta Sweete” a fascinating song cycle about the discordant strands that tied the new south to the old. Although recorded in Hollywood, the mood is pure Delta, with colloquial spoken asides, steamy arrangements and big mama Bobbie’s tough, soulful and sometimes sleepy voice central to the proceedings. But while the disc starts off in a rich and funky groove, it soon veers into a distinctly personal brand of psychedelic pop that’s among the most original and lovely sounds crafted in that fertile year. Several of the originals rely on dream and sleep imagery to conjure an otherworldly, haunting air that’s just unforgettable. As good as “The Delta Sweete” was, it flopped, and the consummate pro rushed back into the studio in London to remake herself anew. The more modest “Local Gentry” unfortunately drops the sexy blues standards for maudlin Beatles covers, a minor misstep along the path to duet success with Glen Campbell. But there are still some great moments, with the gently sociopathic “Recollection” and the dark humored “Casket Vignette” especially effective, so fans won’t mind having it slotted onto the single CD. Also included are covers of “Stormy” and an interesting take on Donovan’s “Skip Along Sam” that riffs off the “Casket Vignette” arrangement.
Though best known for writing the Association’s infectious smash “Windy,” on these home demos Friedman is revealed not as a pop songwriter, but as a jazzy, abstract seeker of answers, love and vision. With her sad, husky voice and often convoluted imagery of nature and the human zoo, these rediscovered tracks evoke a tough yet sensitive hippie lady struggling to define herself, survive and occasionally triumph. The original demo of “Windy” swings nicely, “To Treat A Friend” haunts and “Southern Comfortable” is an intriguing period piece exploring American racism on the coasts and elsewhere. Don’t tune out before the closing tune, the fully orchestrated Tandyn Almer composition “Little Girl Lost & Found,” a psychedelic swirl of children’s book characters gone marvelously mad. The glossy booklet includes Friedman’s memories of each song and some evocative vintage snapshots.