Monday, 28 September 2020

Mary Wells

The Definitive Collection
My Guy/You Beat Me To The Punch/Two Lovers/Your Old Stand By/What's Easy For Two Is So Hard For One/Operator/Laughing Boy/Once Upon A Time/I Don't Want To Take A Chance/The One Who Really Loves You/You Lost The Sweetest Boy/Old Love (Let's Try It Again)/Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right/What Love Has Joined Together/Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me)/What's The Matter With You Baby/Whisper You Love Me Boy/Bye Bye Baby

This is very early Motown stuff. Mary Wells was one of the first artists to be successful on the label and she laid huge foundations for groups like Diana Ross & The Supremes and Martha & The Vandellas to follow. Mary had a strong and versatile voice and her biggest hit, My Guy, is by no means representative of her material overall. She also, perhaps unadvisedly, left Motown in 1964-65 over a contract dispute and her career never recovered, which was a crying shame.

The songs

I have covered this compilation plus a few extra tracks that I have as well. I'll begin with the gritty bluesy upbeat soul of Bye Bye Baby as this is a song that finds Mary's voice far more growly, earthy and robust than it was on a love song like My Guy. Tragically, this throaty voice contributed to her early death, aged just 49.

My Guy is an all-time classic, of course, full of great brass and a totally irresistible rhythm. I love that bass/vocal interplay bit at the end.

Some early rarities are Guarantee (For A Lifetime) which is a melodic, catchy soulful love song and Have A Little Patience And Wait, a fast-paced and lively number with a toe-tapping early rock 'n' roll vibe to it. It has a Northern Soul feel too and the same groove is found on I Don't Want To Take A Chance, which merges rock 'n' roll with r 'n' b perfectly.

Smokey Robinson's I'll Be Available is a jaunty song most typical of that writer's output from the period - archetypal early Motown. I'm Gonna Stay has a feel of the early Drifters to it and a sumptuous bass and percussion backing. 

I'm Sorry is a deliciously bassy serving of bluesy soul while Laughing Boy has some disconcerting 'laughing' backing vocals that detract from the rock 'n' roll-ish ballad.

Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me) is a dramatic ballad that suffers a bit from too much orchestration. It a sad, despairing song that details discontent in a relationship that contrasts strongly with many of the period's love songs, especially with the song's female protagonist saying she will not take her errant boy back.

Old Love (Let's Try It Again) is a solid soul single, as too is the singalong Operator

Please Forgive Me is a slower, bluesier ballad. Strange Love also sees Mary's gruffer voice back on a string-backed slowie and The One Who Really Loves You is a most appealing piece of poppy soul that sounds like Sam Cooke meeting the early Beatles

The enjoyable Two Lovers was a successful song and it also has a fine stereo version along with an an adventurous lyric for the period. 

Also impressive is the late-night jazzy soul of Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right. What Love Has Joined Together is a sublime Smokey Robinson number while the handclappy Whats Easy For Two Is So Hard For One is one of Mary's most upbeat songs. It lays the foundation for The Supremes' material.

When I'm Gone is another corker, with a wonderfully expressive deep bass line and a bit of a My Guy feel. It is the song, along with Two Lovers, that competes properly with My Guy. 

Whisper You Love Me Boy is up there too, to be fair. Actually, I can't leave the seductively soulful potboiler You Beat Me To The Punch out of that list either.

You Lost The Sweetest Boy is a marvellous bopping Motown stomper and Your Old Stand By is an attractive ballad with a good sound quality.

Two good tracks sung with Marvin Gaye are Once Upon A Time and the excellent What's The Matter With You Baby.

While many Motown fans love the original mono single versions, I find the stereo versions that this compilation includes to be far more satisfying - warmer and fuller.

Related posts :-
D Ross/Supremes
Gladys Knight
Martha Reeves

Sunday, 20 September 2020


Aerial Ballet (1968)

Daddy's Song/Good Old Desk/Don't Leave Me/Mr. Richland's Favourite Song/Little Cowboy/Together/Everybody's Talkin'/I Said Goodbye To Me/Little Cowboy (reprise)/Mr. Tinker/One/The Wailing Of The Willow/Bath

Before proceeding to examine his break-through album in more detail, I will briefly mention this, Nilsson's second album, which contained his second most famous and much-covered song in Everybody's Talkin' as well as several quirky, infantile (Little Cowboy is awful) but generally very appealing numbers alongside some blatantly Beatles-influenced (particularly Lennon) ones, such as Mr. Tinker, Mr. Richland's Favourite Song (on which he sounds so like Lennon, referencing "the walrus" too) and the slightly irritating Daddy's Song. Put I Said Goodbye To Me in there with those as well.

The likeable song in praise of his desk, Good Old Desk, is very McCartney-esque but it was Lennon who was the real influence, though, and their friendship began around here.

Together is a lovely, melodic ballad too. I really like that one. The fetching The Wailing Of The Willow sounds almost Samba-like but the album's afore-mentioned big hit, though, stands out way above the rest of the album, and rightly so. 

Highlights :- Everybody's Talkin', Mr. Tinker, Good Old Desk, Don't Leave Me, Together, I Said Goodbye To Me

Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)

Gotta Get Up/Driving Along/Early In The Morning/The Moonbeam Song/Down/Without You/Coconut/Let The Good Times Roll/Jump Into The Fire/I'll Never Leave You

"I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realised that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, 'Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn't, then there's a point to it" - Harry Nilsson

This album was one that, back in 1971-72, a friend of mine’s elder brother owned and I would also see it as I flicked through sleeves in the record shop, looking for Slade and T. Rex. Apart from the big hit single that everyone knows, I have to admit to knowing nothing much about Harry Nilsson, other than that he liked a drink or two and was mates with John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Elton John (I think). It is not surprising, therefore, to see Lennon’s old mucker Klaus Voorman on bass and other early seventies alumni such as Herbie Flowers, Chris Spedding on duty, along with appearances by Caleb Quaye, Bobby Keys and Jim Webb.

The songs

Gotta Get Up is a punchy, brassy number that has echoes of Billy Joel about it, for me, while Driving Along is short, lively and very McCartney-esque. 

Early In The Morning is a blues cover and is done well, with an impressive vocal which sees Nilsson ad-libbing about a waitress saying to him ‘Harry You Sure Look Beat’. The song is a little gem, with a great vibe to it.

The plaintive, gentle tones of The Moonbeam Song is very Lennon-esque, both melodically and lyrically. Even more so is Down - every thing about it screams Lennon to me.

The afore-mentioned hit is, of course, the sublime number one Without You, with its sweeping Paul Buckmaster strings. 

The other song I knew from the album is the slightly irritating but strangely infectious Coconut. Nilsson had a bit of a wit about him and he displays it here as he repeatedly asks for his bellyache to be cured, giving full instructions about putting lime in coconuts. 

Actually I also know Let The Good Times Roll, largely because of Slade’s barnstorming 1972 cover of it. Nilsson’s version is slower and bluesier but no less appealing.

The album’s high point is the insistent, brooding bluesy rockout, Jump Into The Fire, which well and truly kicks ass. It reminds me of David Bowie’s Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed in places and it features some seriously good guitar too. And, a great drum solo backed up by some rumbling Voorman bass runs. I didn’t realise Nilsson could rock like this. Great stuff all round.

In complete contrast is the closer, the maudlin I’ll Never Leave You which sort of ends the proceedings in a slightly understated fashion. The track suffers from too much orchestration for me. This is nit-picking, though, as this is an enjoyable album, but I cannot help but feel it is a bit like a Ringo album. His 73-75 offerings, Ringo and Goodnight Vienna are quite similar, I feel. Nothing wrong with that, though, I like those albums. People say this was Nilsson’s most cohesive work, listening to it, I can understand that. The sound quality is excellent too.

Related posts :-
John Lennon
Ringo Starr
Elton John

Monday, 14 September 2020

The Grateful Dead

"We're like liquorice. Not everybody likes liquorice, but the people who like liquorice really like liquorice" - Jerry Garcia



I have divided The Grateful Dead's work into two sections - click on an image to read the reviews for the relevant period:-


For my more succinct reviews of The Dead's work, click here :-

Thursday, 10 September 2020


Rufus (1973)

Slip 'n' Slide/Keep It Coming/There's No Tellin'/Maybe Your Baby/I Finally Found You/Feel Good/Satisfied/Haulin' Coal/Whoever's Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)/Medley - Love The One You're With-Sit Yourself Down

This 1973 debut album from Rufus is totally different from the albums that made their name from the following year. Surprisingly it is far more a rock album with soul and gospel influences than it is a soul/funk album like its two highly successful follow-ups. It is a rick album in essence featuring a soul vocalist in Yvonne Stevens (soon to be known as Chaka Khan here). It makes for a highly interesting album. 

The songs

Slip 'n' Slide is a breakneck, rollicking serving of rock 'n' roll meets gospel, with all the group's vocalists giving it their all. 

Ashford and Simpson's Keep It Coming is a bassy, rock-ish mid-pace number that showcases the remarkable voice of vocalist Chaka Khan. 

Ron Stockert takes lead vocals on the Tumbleweed Connection-era Elton John style orchestrated ballad, There's No Tellin', that features some very Billy Joel-esque piano and a killer lead guitar solo. There is not a funky groove to be found here. 

Funk first appears on the delicious wah-wah and chunky drums backing of Stevie Wonder's Maybe Your Baby, which actually improves on the original, both instrumentally and due in no small part to Khan's towering vocal. Once again, the mid-song fuzzy guitar solo is outstandingly good.

I Finally Found You is a piano-led slowie that has Chaka in Tina Turner mode on the vocal. The bass and piano backing is lovely. Good song. 

Feel Good is an infectious piece of funky rock with a great riff and another fabulous, rubber-band bass line. Satisfied rocks with a gospel vibrancy from its very first note, in a most unique fashion - this really is an impossible album to categorise. 

The Elton John vibe is there again on the gentle, soulful piano and vocal strains of Haulin' Coal. Stockert is on lead vocals again, sounding a lot like Leon Russell, in that nasal sort of way.

Chaka is back is the chunky, bassy Southern soul of Allen Toussaint's Whoever's Thrilling You (Is Killing Me) and the album finishes with covers of two Stephen Stills songs - Love The One You're With and Sit Yourself Down. The former is slowed down, initially, to a piano, organ and voice gospel groove until it bursts out, Proud Mary-style to a marvellous piece of soul boogie which continues into the second song.

This is well worth checking out. It was all change after this however.

Rags To Rufus (1974)

You Got The Love/I Got The Right Street (But The Wrong Direction)/Walkin' In The Sun/Rags To Rufus/Swing Down Chariot/Sideways/Ain't Nothin' But A Maybe/Tell Me Something Good/Look Through My Eyes/In Love We Grow/Smokin' Room

This was Rufus's second album, dating from 1974, and is pretty much more of the same fare as their first offering - raw, cookin' funk and sumptuous, soulful ballads. It is slightly the better of the two albums, being more varied in style. In my view it tops Rufusized, from later in the same year as well. 

The songs

You Got The Love is a superb, funky opener featuring some absolutely stonking lead guitar. This was one of Rufus's strength - they merged rock instrumentation with funk most effectively. This is a copper-bottomed accessible funk classic, a truly superb track.  

I Got the Right Street (But the Wrong Direction) is another pot boiling funker, with more great guitar, as too is the grinding Blaxploitation soundtrack-ish instrumental, Rags To Rufus. Check out that freaky keyboard solo. This is seventies funk of the highest order, recorded in superb sound quality too. 

In between these tracks, up third, is the uplifting, gospel-influenced ballad, Walkin' In the Sun, which has a killer bass line and a fantastic Chaka Khan vocal. 

Swing Down Chariot is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rousing gospel duet between Khan and Ron Stockert, who interestingly left the group half way through the album's recording, unhappy at the promoting of Khan at the head of the group. It features some seriously stonking saxophone too. 

Sideways is a brief funky instrumental that leads into the guitar-driven and nicely orchestrated slowie Ain't Nothin' But A Maybe

Stevie Wonder's Tell Me Something Good is a typically clavinet-powered chunky piece of slow, grinding funk. 

Look Through My Eyes is a deliciously catchy and funky number while In Love We Grow is a dramatic, piano-backed Chaka shrieker. 

The album closes with the peacefully rhythmic strains of Smokin' Room, with its sweeping strings, infectious gentle congas and, of course, a fine Chaka vocal. Overall, this is a soul/funk album worthy of high regard. It deservedly sold loads. 

Rufusized (1974)

Once You Get Started/Somebody's Watching You/Pack'd My Bags/Your Smile/Rufusized/I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)/Right Is Right/Half Moon/Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)/Stop On By   

Rufus had released one very unsuccessful debut album of funk/soul in 1973, and changed their line-up considerably for their comparative breakthrough offering the following year, Rags To Riches, so much so that they were virtually a new band. That album provided a showcase for the vocal talents of one Chaka Khan and this was continued here on their third outing. 
The songs

With a few seconds of the upbeat funky brass and wah-wah-driven Once You Get Started beginning, Chaka Khan arrives with her distinctive multi-pitched vocals. Sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes gruff and gritty, sometimes sweet and melodious - her range is most impressive. Fellow vocalist Tony Maiden provides a great contribution too and the music is top notch - ass-kicking funk of the highest quality. Just check out that throbbing, rubberband bass and those funky guitars. Rufus gained appearances on Soul Train on the back of this and you can hear why. The song's rhythm has an early disco groove that was actually quite ground-breaking. The sound is superb too - big, full, warm and bassy.

Somebody's Watching You is a cookin' piece of down 'n' dirty funk/soul - tuneful and earthy at the same time. Its influence on Michael Jackson's Off The Wall era material is clear. 

Pack'd My Bags is more of a straight ahead sumptuous slow soul number than a funker, despite a funky break in the middle. 

Your Smile is far more laid-back and sublimely soulful. The sound quality on here is outstanding and again, I can't state it enough, this is some of the best seventies soul around. Khan's vocal on this song is magnificent.

Rufusized is an early Commodores-style, organ-driven funky semi-instrumental with only occasional backing vocals, great saxophone and funky guitar as well. 

The solid funk of I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone) is a prototype I'm Every Woman and typical of the burgeoning number of strong female singers and songs that emerged in the early mid-seventies. Sisters were doing it for themselves. 

Right Is Right is so deliciously funky it hurts. That guitar is right on the money, man. The funk continues apace on the upbeat, frantic Half Moon, which is chock full of organ breaks, pulsating bass and fast shuffling drums.

Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend) is representative of a lot of the soul songs of the period with a mini-story based within its three soulful minutes. 

Stop On By ends this excellent album with an appealing slice of slow-burning, bassy funky soul. It was a cover of a Bobby Womack song. Overall, this album was one of the seventies' finest examples of funk-edged soul.

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (1974)

Fools' Paradise/Have A Good Time/Ooh I Like Your Loving/Everybody Has An Aura/Circles/Sweet Thing/Dance Wit Me/Little Boy Blue/On Time/Jive Talkin'

This was Rufus's third album of funky soul in just over a year. It slightly lacks the spark and variety of the previous two, sounding a lot like the albums that Chaka Khan would release towards the end of the decade. By now all rock/soul fusion had been forgotten - it was soul/funk all the way. The cover was great too, although it owes more than a little to The Rolling Stones' 'lips' design.

The songs

Fools' Paradise is a slick, effortless offering of jazzy Crusaders-influenced funk and the same applies to the party starter, the upbeat Have A Good Time

Ooh I Like Your Loving is more slow-paced, plodding funky soul but it is in possession of a sublime bass line. I am sure David Bowie was influenced by the layered backing vocals for the material on his Young Americans album the following year.

Everybody Has An Aura is a seductive, insistent brassy funk groove which seems pretty formulaic now, but at the time was reasonably new in its slick, smooth, late-night vibe. It too the orchestration of Philly Soul and funked it up. 

Circles is irresistibly attractive in its shuffling funk and it goes without saying that Chaka's vocals are stridently impressive, as are the robust keyboard lines. 

Sweet Thing is a track that would provide a template for numerous soul/funk bands over many subsequent years. Indeed, bands are still playing in this style today, such as the UK's SouLutions

Dance Wit Me ups the beat from end-of-the-evening smooching to mid-evening getting down with a lively keyboard/bass/drums-powered groover. Give some time to the bass/cymbal/keyboard interplay at the end. 

Little Boy Blue is string-backed soul/funk by numbers - nothing special, but still eminently listenable. 

On Time is an appealing, mid-pace jazz-funky instrumental, while The Bee Gees' Jive Talkin' is slowed-down considerably and undeniably enhanced by Khan's vocals, but personally prefer the original's speed. 

The band would go on to release two more with Chaka Khan on lead vocals, before she left to pursue her successful solo career.

Check out Chaka Khan's solo album reviews too :-


"I would sing the Lord's Prayer and my mother would hold her breath until I made the high notes" - Syreeta Wright 
Syreeta (1972)
I Love Every Little Thing About You/Black Maybe/Keep Him Like He Is/Happiness/She's Leaving Home/What Love Has Joined Together/How Many Days/Baby Don't You Let Me Lose This/To Know You Is To Love You

In 1972, Stevie Wonder divorced his wife Syreeta Wright (or maybe she divorced him) and then promptly collaborated with her on writing, playing on and producing her first album. Some critics prefer her second album, but for me it is this one that is the superior product. Wonder adopts the 'play most of the instruments myself' approach that his parallel album, Music Of My Mind, utilises. The sound is instantly recognisable - that 'home-grown' drum sound in particular.

The songs

I Love Every Little Thing About You appeared, of course on Stevie Wonder's Music Of My Mind, and is covered here in typical Wonder style - lots of clavinet, funky cymbal work, wah-wah guitars, all helped by Syreeta's versatile voice. It is a convincing and nicely funky version, making for a good, lively start to the album.

Black Maybe sees the pace slow down completely on an aware and soulful ballad.

Keep Him Like He Is is a rhythmic, syncopated but slow-ish Wonder composition, featuring some funky guitar backing together with a dreamy string orchestration while Wright's gentle ballad Happiness is a pleasant, subtly-backed number that builds up to an uplifting, gospel finish.

Beatles covers were a common thing on Motown albums from the mid-sixties onwards and Paul McCartney's She's Leaving Home is done acceptably - Syreeta's voice suitably moving and Wonder using his "talk box" sound affects thingy to add something different.

What Love Has Joined Together is a Smokey Robinson song given a funky but heavily-orchestrated Wonder makeover.

How Many Days is a quiet Wonder ballad featuring a backing and vocal delivery typical of its era. 

Baby Don't Let Me Lose This is a synthesiser/drums/bass backed, very Wonder-esque upbeat number.

The final song is a fine duet between Wonder and Wright on To Know You Is To Love You. It has a captivating, high quality rhythmic backing. It is arguably the best track on the album and would have enhanced Music Of My Mind no end. As I said earlier, I prefer this album to its follow-up, finding it more of a smooth, ambient listen.
Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (1974)
I’m Goin’ Left/Spinnin’ And Spinnin’/Come And Get This Stuff/Your Kiss Is Sweet/Heavy Day/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers/Just A Little Piece Of You/Waitin’ For The Postman/When Your Daddy’s Not Around/I Wanna Be By Your Side/Universal Sound Of The World

This was Syreeta Wright’s second album, from 1974, and it is full of songs written with ex-husband Stevie Wonder, and in that respect it is a quite similar album to Wonder’s Talking Book. It is probably a closer cousin, though, to the more experimental Music Of My Mind, however, in its slightly un-cohesive feel. After a promising first side, the album loses it a bit, considerably, on the old side two. I will give it the benefit of the doubt, though, and accept that it may be an acquired taste. Indeed, a few listens helps somewhat in this respect. 

The songs

I’m Goin’ Left is a robust, chunky funker of an opener before we get the two hits - the airy, dreamy, quirky soul of Spinnin’ And Spinnin’ and the blatant, strident, singalong pop of Your Kiss Is Sweet

After these two is the solid, bassy funk of Come And Get This Stuff. This is my personal favourite on the album. Incidentally, it was originally writen for Chaka Khan for use with Rufus, but she preferred the equally funky, Wonder-penned Tell Me Something Good instead. 

Heavy Day is a beautiful slow number with lots of Stevie Wonder influence all over it. That influence continues on the gentle, romantic strains of Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.
 These two are both really appealing, attractive, lovely songs. 

Just A Little Piece Of You is more seductively upbeat, with that typical ‘home-made’ chunky Wonder drum sound most prominent and a great bass line. Syreeta sounds like Diana Ross on this one. 

Now here is where it all goes a bit awry as the album briefly goes all ‘concept’ for a few minutes, most unadvisedly, and it sort of spoils the whole feel - Waitin’ For The Postman is a short, cacophonous oddity and the bizarre When Your Daddy’s Not Around even more so. They are both totally unnecessary inclusions. 

Thankfully, the quality returns on I Wanna Be By Your Side, a strong duet with G.C.Cameron

Unfortunately this earier odd diversification has made the album sound a bit indulgent. Universal Sound Of The World also redeems things a bit, but I can’t help but feel this album was a bit of an over-reach on Wonder and Wright’s part, because it is a bit of a mess in places, for me, anyway. I am not sure what they were trying to achieve at times. The next album would not appear for over two years but it was a better one, for me at least. 
One To One (1977)
One To One/I Don't Know/Rest Yourself/I Too Am Wanting/Tiki Tiki Donga/Don't Cry/Harmour Love/One To One (reprise)

Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright's ex-husband and long-time musical collaborator, had a hand in the production of this immaculately-produced 1977 serving of sweet, funky-ish in places, but generally smooth and relaxing soul. Also involved was her second husband, Curtis Robinson, Jr. That must have been fun in the studio. Maybe Stevie didn’t mind. Obviously not.

The songs

One To One is a very Stevie Wonder/Detroit Spinners-esque upbeat number that I am sure has Michael Jackson guesting on vocals although I could be wrong, but Syreeta address a "Michael" towards to end of the song and it sounds like him on the backing vocals. Listen - I am convinced it is him.

I Don’t Know has a great bass line, a gospelly feel and some superb, cookin’ saxophone from Gary 'Music Is My Sanctuary' Bartz. Check out the bass/drum/congas/vocal interplay near the end too - this is a delicious piece of effortlessly groovy seventies soul. 

Rest Yourself is a peaceful, slow burning, unthreatening workout that you sense singers like Syreeta could cope with in their sleep.

I Too Am Wanting is a late-night slice of sensual, sleepy soul, enhanced near the end by some seriously impressive falsetto from Syreeta. 

Tiki Tiki Donga is an infectious, African-influenced rhythmic number, featuring some great bass, wah-wah guitar and percussion. It is extremely funky in places too and is one of the album’s highlights for me. Don’t Cry sees a return to the bedtime vibe with another smoocher.

Strangely, Syreeta’s summer of 1975 hit, Wonder’s Harmour Love appears, apparently at the last minute, as its summery, semi-reggae acoustic/bass rhythms and poppy melody sits most incongruously with the rest of the album. I still really like it, though, and its joyous sound brings back memories of that summer (I had bought the single).

This all-too-short album ends with a pleasant semi-instrumental version of One To One, which sort of gives you the impression they had run out of material somewhat.

Related posts :-
Stevie Wonder
The Commodores
Marvin Gaye

Friday, 4 September 2020

Bobbie Gentry

"I just can't bring myself to compromise" -Bobbie Gentry
Ode To Billie Joe (1967)

Mississippi Delta/I Saw An Angel Die/Chickasaw County Child/Sunday Best/Niki Hoeky/Papa Won't You Let Me Go To Town With You?/Bugs/Hurry, Tuesday Child/Lazy Willie/Ode To Billie Joe

"It's about basic indifference, the casualness of people in moments of tragedy" - Bobbie Gentry

This was Mississippi girl Bobbie Gentry's debut album from 1967 and is bookended by two of her finest tracks, both of which are typical of her work in that they detail various aspects and stories of Southern States life - something Gentry made a career out of doing. It is a nice mix of downhome swampy, earthy blues material and tender string-backed ballads. The feel of the Deep South is all over the album. Now, pass me some of those black-eyed peas, please....

The songs

Mississippi Delta is a superb piece of throaty and husky-voiced bluesy fare about Gentry's early life in the South packed full of references to crawdad holes, peppermint sticks, mosquito bites and lots of other incomprehensible local dialect lyrics. Its atmosphere is palpable, you can feel the heat and the sweaty summers. It rocks with a bluesy energy from note one and always gets me hot under the collar imagining Gentry swanning around in the Southern swamps, barefoot and skimpy check top, raven hair failing over her shoulders...steady on now.

The tempo changes now on the slow acoustic and mournful ballad I Saw An Angel Die before the good ol' Deep South homespun blues are back on the swampy strains of Chickasaw County Child

Sunday Best is a laid-back acoustic and brass gentle ballad with Gentry's voice less gruff and sweeter in the style she would use on 1969's I'll Never all In Love Again.

Gentry goes Cajun on the patois number, Niki Hoeky, a song also covered by Aretha Franklin. It sounds like a Gentry original, in both its lyrical content and its staccato swampy riffy blues backing. 

Papa Won't You Let Me Go To Town With You? is a slightly jazzy, brassy acoustic number, while Bugs is a jerky, quirky and amusing song about insects. Even a sort of throwaway song like this is enhanced by Gentry's incredibly sexy, characterful and unique voice and her appealing wit.

Hurry, Tuesday Child slows the pace down to a walk on a boiling afternoon with an evocative ballad backed by some sumptuous trumpet. I reckon Elvis Costello would have loved this one. He covered lots of similar material on his Almost Blue album.

The final two tracks are Gentry classics - Lazy Willie - a tale about the youngest, and laziest of seventeen children duet against a typical Gentry backing. Without one noticing, the song seems to morph seamlessly into the song that really broke it big for Gentry - the heartbreaking, haunting narrative of Ode To Billie Joe. The song is an absolute treasure of intriguing, incredibly atmospheric lyrics and a top notch vocal and instrumental delivery from Gentry. It is almost a novelette in its own right.

Just what did Billie Joe McAllister throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? A wedding ring, or (more grisly, but it did come in to my mind)  - an aborted/miscarried foetus? We will never know, neither did its writer - Gentry has always said that she left these mysterious parts of the songs deliberately that, remaining a mystery. The song, to her, was written to show how indifferent and casual people could be when hearing of a tragedy - in this case the narrator's (a girl's) family carrying on eating their dinner apparently relatively unmoved by an incident that was anything but everyday.

This album knocked Sgt. Pepper off the top of the Billboard chart, would you believe? It was good, but maybe not that good. Whatever, it was certainly a most impressive and unusual debut.

The Delta Sweete (1968)

Okolona River Bottom Band/Big Boss Man/Reunion/Parchman Farm/Morning Glory/Sermon/Tobacco Road/Penduli Pendulum/Jessye ‘Lisabeth/Refractions/Louisiana Man/Courtyard

"I didn't lose any sleep over it. I've never tried to second-guess public taste" - Bobbie Gentry

This was Bobbie Gentry’s second album and followed her number one debut Ode To Billie Joe. It was a loose ‘concept album’ based around (surprise, surprise) life in the Deep South. There are some cover versions included as well as Gentry’s original compositions but they all suit the theme well. The tracks all flow into each other, adding to the ‘suite’ concept, (corrupted here into ‘sweete’ - Southern term for a pretty girl, like ‘belle’).

The songs

Okolona River Bottom Band is a shuffling New Orleans brass meets swamp blues, featuring some background madcap laughter, a typically husky vocal from Gentry and some infectious percussion. It mines the same bluesy seam as Mississippi Delta had on the previous album.

Big Boss Man is a catchy, harmonica-driven blues with once more some really rhythmic percussion, particularly on the bits where the backing stops apart from the congas. It is a genuinely great piece of rocking blues (it is a cover) that would have sounded great on an early Rolling Stones album. 

Reunion is a strange vocal and minimalist strummed guitar backing song that has Gentry reminiscing about her upbringing with various vocalists taking the parts of her family. It is an odd song, but a strangely captivating one.

Parchman Farm is a deliciously attractive cover of a Mose Allison song, with some marvellous bass/guitar and percussion interplay behind Gentry’s archetypally gruff but sensual vocal. It eventually merges into the lovely, relaxing warm bath feel of Morning Glory that has another sumptuous vocal. The upbeat gospelly brass/rhythm groove of 

Sermon is next. The sound quality is superb on all this stuff. Listen to it through headphones, it is excellent. The original mono version of the album is good too, but it is better suited to full speakers. Check out Big Boss Man in mono.

The much-covered standard, Tobacco Road, is putty in Gentry’s hands and turned into a slow, grinding blues, the strangely titled Penduli Pendulum is an orchestrated, almost hippy-ish slow number, while Jessye ‘Lisabeth is a most gentle, almost folky, acoustic ballad.

Refractions is a ghostly song detailing an odd dream Gentry had but, just as the album was starting to become a bit bogged down in quiet reflections.

Louisiana Man brings country blues back. However, the final track, the acoustic and thoroughly beautiful Courtyard has the gentle introspective feel returning. It is certainly a nice song, though.

The final third of the album is nicely understated but tends to lose a bit of momentum. Compared to the success of its predecessor, it was a failure, barely registering on the charts. I am not quite sure why that was at all, neither was Gentry, claiming she was not able to second-guess the public. I can see what she meant, there is no reason for this one not to do reasonably well, surely those who liked the first album will have liked this one? Maybe the whole concept thing out them off.

It was, despite its lack of sales, a mature, well-crafted piece if work and way ahead of its time, in many ways. It was only early 1968, remember - a concept album? From a female country artist? Hmmm, they must have thought. More power to her, I say.

** A non-album track from the period is the glorious brassy soul/rock of Seventh Son. A great alternative version of Mississippi Delta was knocking around too.

Local Gentry (1968)
Sweete Peony/Casket Vignette/Come Away Melinda/The Fool On The Hill/Papa’s Medicine Show/Ace Insurance Man/Recollection/Sittin’ Pretty/Eleanor Rigby/Peaceful/Here, There And Everywhere

Bobbie Gentry’s second album of 1968 saw her introduce covers in to her recordings more - five of the eleven tracks are her own, six are covers including three from The Beatles. The ambience still contains much of the home-grown swampy folk charm of its predecessor, Delta Sweete. Unfortunately, and incomprehensibly, this one was not a success either.

The songs

Gentry’s Sweete Peony is a shuffling piece of bluesy delta groove that would have suited the previous album. Also her song is the acute observational song about a funeral director, the appropriately-titled Casket Vignette.

Come Away Melinda is an acoustic, guitar-pickin’ number with topical anti-war lyrics. In 1968, with Vietnam at its height, many such songs were becoming increasingly popular. 

The first Beatles cover is The Fool On The Hill, which mixes oompah with country - another popular thing in the late sixties was Beatles covers. It sounds more than a little incongruous, however, amongst these songs of the South. It is plaintively beautiful, though. The Beatles-style instrumentation continues on the folky and simultaneously lively and slow Papa’s Medicine Show, which even gets a little wah-wah funky at times.

Gentry’s jaunty, Deep South narrative Ace Insurance Man mixes humour with sharp observation and a selection of in-character voices from Bobbie. 

Recollection is a sort of folk torch song that has slight echoes of The Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home

Sittin’ Pretty has a quirky, almost psychedelic 1968 feel on its faster passages. Stuff like this was actually quite adventurous at the time, indeed, even the concept of a female singer-songwriter was. Gentry needs more credit than she gets for being a bit of a (albeit reluctant) trail blazer.

While The Fool On The Hill may not have seemed to quite fit, Eleanor Rigby could have been written for Gentry. Its innate sadness suits her down to the ground. It is one the most underrated Beatles covers. 

Peaceful is a gently rocking, orchestrated and most appealing number featuring some fine instrumentation. 

The final Beatles cover is McCartney’s Here, There And Everywhere, to which Bobbie lends her lovely voice, together with an infectiously sixties-style lounge bar jazzy backing.

Overall, there was a certain cohesiveness to this album and a slight improvement in sound quality from the previous two. 

** There were also some impressive non-album tracks in the funky, jerky Skip Along Sam, the smooth, soulful Hushabye Mountain and the excellent, typical Gentry bluesy narrative of The Conspiracy Of Homer Jones, which is a bit of a hidden gem. Surprisingly, it wasn’t written by her. It should have been on the album. 

There are also the gentle country tones of Cotton Candy Sandman. Some good stuff was left off the eventual release.

Touch 'Em With Love (1969)
Touch ‘Em With Love/Greyhound Goin’ Somewhere/Natural To Be Gone/Seasons Come Seasons Go/Glory Hallelujah, How They’ll Sing/I Wouldn’t Be Surprised/Son Of A Preacher Man/Where’s The Playground, Johnny/I’ll Never Fall In Love Again/You Make Me So Very Happy

This, Bobbie Gentry’s fourth solo album, from 1969, has a real case for being her best. It differs slightly from her previous ones, which were a mix of bluesy down home Deep South tales and plaintive, often beguiling ballads. This one is a mix of Memphis style soul, tuneful country and gospelly country soul. It is her Dusty In Memphis, (released six months later) with equally sexy, husky vocals and full of strident bass and excellent fatback drums. The sound quality is superb throughout as well.

All but two songs here are covers, but Gentry covers are always fine offerings.

The songs

Touch ‘Em With Love is a short, but a superbly gritty, soulful and kick ass piece of Stax-y fare, featuring a trademark gruff Gentry vocal together with some fine organ, drums, guitar and backing vocals. Excellent stuff. As too is the appealing, melodic upbeat country groove of Greyhound Goin’ Somewhere.

Natural Being Gone is also lively and attractive, with some finger-pickin’ banjo backing another of her perceptive lyrics. Gentry’s own Seasons Come Seasons Go is a gentle, beautifully bassy, John Denver-style song. It is lyrically beautiful, thoughtful and melodically entrancing - just lovely.

Bobbie’s other self-penned song is Glory Hallelujah, How They’ll Sing which is, unsurprisingly, a gospel number straight from the churches of the South. Bobbie could always do gospel well, with her throaty, husky voice. 

I Wouldn’t Be Surprised is a Memphis style, Dusty Springfield-esque robust brassy soul ballad. The next track is known to all Dusty fans, of course, the iconic Son Of A Preacher Man, and it is just as well done here. Jim Webb’s Where’s The Playground, Johnny is a big, orchestrated number that you would think was Dusty if you didn’t know.

If the Dusty comparisons are getting too regular, next up is a true Bobbie gem - her interpretation of Bacharach and David’s I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, which was a huge hit and is just sublime. Scottish band Deacon Blue also covered it well some twenty tears years later. Bobbie, as well being a great singer-songwriter, could also nail a cover, and she does so here too with her take on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ brassy classic You Made Me So Very Happy.

** Albums in those days were short, so it ends there. Non-album tracks from the period were the muscular More Today Than Yesterday and excellent covers of David Clayton-Thomas’s Spinning Wheel and Bacharach/David’s This Girl’s In Love With You and The Windows Of The World

Also notable are six laid-back stand-up bass, guitar and piano smoky jazz covers which were originally intended for this album (which was originally going to be the release, but was suddenly shelved in favour of the more soulful approach). These are all really good tracks and Gentry handles them perfectly, giving them a smooth, sexy, late-night feel. Let’s be honest, Bobbie was sexy as hell.

I really love this album and its add-ons - great sound, great playing and great sexy, soulful singing. Top notch.

Fancy (1970)
Fancy/I’ll Never Fall In Love Again/Delta Man/Something In The Way He Moves/Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em And Forget ‘Em/He Made A Woman Out Of Me/Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head /If You’ve Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody/Rainmaker/Wedding Bell Blues

"Sexy is as sexy does and Bobbie Gentry certainly does. She's taken the sensual seductiveness of her own 'Fancy' and made that the criterion for this new album" - Record World

Containing only one Gentry original, this 1970 Bobbie Gentry album is wonderful anyway - packed full of both sexy Southern soul and easy listening numbers given a gritty makeover from beginning to end.

The songs

Fancy is a brooding piece of Southern soul detailing the tale of a young girl’s fight to escape from poverty by way of prostitution. It is a marvellously atmospheric, brassy number, one of Bobbie’s best. She followed that up with a copper-bottomed husky-voiced classic in Bacharach/David’s I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. It is just a great song, as everyone knows, but Gentry makes it her own. Strangely, it had appeared on her previous album as well.

Delta Man is a catchy, vibrant soulful number with more great brass and, of course, another superb vocal. James Taylor’s Something In The Way He Moves is delivered beautifully - romantic, tender and soothing. Just lovely.

Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em And Forget ‘Em is a robustly horn-powered Stax-esque number with Bobbie at her most grittily soulful. Equally bumptious is the cookin’ and sexy He Made A Woman Out Of Me. These two are serious Deep South servings.

Bacharach/David’s iconic
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head has always irritated me a tiny bit, (mainly due to the movie clips of Paul Newman pissing about on a bike) but as it’s Bobbie Gentry here I’ll mellow my feelings. It sounds great in her capable hands. 

If You’ve Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is an oompah-ish lively and poppy song, while Harry Nilsson’s Rainmaker is another track that seems tailor-made for Gentry’s superb interpretative abilities.

Laura Nyro’s Wedding Bell Blues is jauntily appealing too, and before we know it this great-sounding, immensely pleasurable offering is over. The pity was that the great Bobbie Gentry had only one more album left in her before she inexplicably packed it all in.

** Interesting non-album tracks are a fine cover of Elvis’s In The Ghetto and the impressive Apartment 21, which surely must have influenced Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Patchwork (1971)
Benjamin/Interlude 1/Marigolds And Tangerines/Interlude 2/Billy The Kid/Interlude 3/Beverley/Interlude 4 /Miss Clara/Interlude 5/But I Can’t Get Back/Jeremiah/Interlude6/Belinda/Mean Step Mama Blues/Your Number One Fan/Interlude 7/Somebody Like Me/Lookin’ In

"Those who have been taking Bobbie Gentry lightly...stop and reconsider” - Cashbox

This was, unfortunately, Bobbie Gentry’s last album and, in many ways, it was her most adventurous. Populated with all Gentry original songs, it contained little of the Stax-y soul of her previous two albums, or much of the Mississippi blues of her first three outings. Many of the songs are separated by short instrumental interludes and there seems to be a loose concept, but, if I’m honest, I struggle to pick up on what it is. It is a quirky, Impossible to categorise piece of work, but it is appealing in a strange sort of way and its creativity/originality should be admired. In many places, a string autobiographical streak can detected and also a sad, seeming admittance of defeat along with the more familiar Gentry nostalgia. It was like she knew this was her last shot, which contributes to the general feeling of sadness.

The songs

Benjamin is a laid-back piece of singalong bluesy jazz while Marigolds And Tangerines is a low-key, acoustic and evocative number. 

Billy The Kid is a jaunty, cowboy song about the legendary outlaw. Beverley is sung in English and Spanish, and tells the tale of a girl who works on a production line and then we get the ragtime-ish, upbeat story of librarian Miss Clara. Once again the song is enlivened by Gentry’s wry, witty lyrics. It ends with some infectious jazzy drum and brass rhythms. It is all great fun, and you can sense Bobbie is really enjoying herself. 

But I Can’t Get Back is a beautiful, moving ballad with a big chorus and a lovely warm bass line.

Jeremiah is a big production, gospel-influenced and heavily-orchestrated number and Bobbie’s voice copes admirably with everything the backing demands of her, it truly soars. Belinda is a catchy country-ish sing about a stripper, enhanced by some more fine lyrics. Bobbie sounds just like Karen Carpenter on this one.

The blues finally arrives on the Delta blues of
Mean Step Mama Blues which is set alight in the middle by some stonking horn breaks and lead guitar. 

Your Number One Fan is a catchy, jazzy piece of fun. Somebody Like Me has a soulful, brassy groove and, as I listen to this, I am struck again by just how versatile Gentry’s voice is on this album.

The plaintive strains of
Lookin’ In end this most unusually appealing album on a poignant, reflective note - ‘I’m packing up and I’m checking out” sings Gentry, presciently.

There were many reviewers at the time who said that this was Gentry’s work of genius. Maybe they were right. It may not have the instant appeal of her other work, but it certainly has a bucketful of originality and display a huge talent.

What a shame that this album bombed and Bobbie Gentry left music behind. For four years she really sparkled. Her songs will live on forever and that is something she should be most proud of. She could sing beautifully, play guitar and write wonderful songs and deserved far more success. Retrospectively, however, her reputation has grown and grown.