It’s Bobbie Gentry’s birthday, but this year it’s Bobbie’s devoted fans who are getting an incredible present.
Today, Universal announced The Girl from Chickasaw County, an 8-record Bobbie Gentry box set.
The Girl From Chickasaw County is a career defining 8 CD box set that includes all seven of Gentry’s studio albums sensitively re-mastered from the original tapes, supplemented by over 75 previously unreleased recordings including her ‘lost’ jazz album, outtakes, demos, rarities and an 8th disc of live performances taken from her celebrated series for the BBC. The release has specially commissioned cover art by David Downton and includes an 84-page book with a comprehensive essay by compiler Andrew Batt, rare and unseen photos, 8 postcards and a facsimile of her original handwritten lyrics for ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.
What I have heard so far is incredible. On the demos, you hear nothing but the soft light of a big room, then Bobbie sighs into the microphone, counts off to four, and begins playing “Feeling Good,” the classic made famous by Nina Simone on her 1965 record I Put a Spell On You.
Birds flying high, you know how I feel.
Chills. Hearing Bobbie sing this line reminds me of “Refractions,” one of my favorite tracks off her 1968 record The Delta Sweete. In that song, Bobbie sings that she dreamed she was a crystal bird stuck in perpetual flight.
Glass enclosed, exposed wherever I flew
With no control and a crystal soul
That one could see right through
These lines always haunted me. Bobbie wrote them early in her career at Capitol Records, and yet this passage so starkly foreshadowed her fear of fame and losing her privacy. As we know, Bobbie retired from show business in the early 1980s in order to protect her privacy, and has not performed in public since.
“Feeling Good” is of course from “the lost jazz record.” What? It turns out that Bobbie Gentry’s published output just scratched the surface of her ambitions. The box set contains 75 unreleased tracks from a four-year recording career. The complete archive of tapes helps complete the story I began writing with my book Ode to Billie Joe. Sometimes referred to at the time as a “hillbilly singer,” Bobbie Gentry was in fact a multi-instrumentalist composer-producer with a vision and artistic intuition far ahead of her time.
These tapes tell a story, and I’ll be telling that story soon. The box set will be released in the UK in September, with release in the U.S. to follow shortly afterward. I'll be announcing an event celebrating the box set soon, so stay tuned for that.
Happy birthday, Bobbie. It’s a new day.