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Too good to overlook


Too good to overlook

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Heart’s Ease by Shirley Collins: Buoyed by the warm reception greeting her 2016 comeback, Lodestar, this British folk heroine returns with a dozen more explorations of the traditional and the neo-traditional songbooks. The perpetually haunting effect results in part from the backward-time-travel instrumentation (acoustic guitars, hurdy-­gurdies, fiddles, harmoniums), in part from the emotionally rich subject matter (tragedies and comedies associated with seafaring, romance, and domesticity), in part from the presence of “What Wondrous Love Is This,” and in part from Collins’ voice, which along with the rest of her turned 85 in July and which she metaphorically assesses in couplet: “The feet that were nimble tread carefully now / As gentle a measure as age do allow.”

The Delta Sweete (Deluxe Edition) by Bobbie Gentry: This reissue’s timing—two years past its subject’s 50th anniversary—suggests that were it not for the love shown The Delta Sweete last year by Mercury Rev (see “Encore”), Capitol’s deluxe-edition overseers might have overlooked it altogether. Still, they’ve done the job right, leading with a new stereo remastering that makes the ambitiously diverse sonic details easier than ever to appreciate. So why, in retrospect, did it bomb? Because it was a folk-country-gospel-blues concept album with whiffs of Percy Faith, Dusty Springfield, and Simon & Garfunkel in the age of Tommy? Because only “Okolona River Bottom Band” sounded anything like the “Ode to Billie Joe” follow-up that everyone was expecting? Whatever the reasons, they no longer apply.

I’ve Got You Covered by Wendy Moten: Moten has a wonderful voice. Warm, full, and alert to nuance, it’s arguably the best on the pop-country-R&B spectrum yet to get its rightful due. Enter Vince Gill, who besides producing this project has also had the good sense to employ Moten as a member of his touring band for the last four years, during which time they’ve road-tested Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Faithless Love,” Jeannie Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me,” and Ernest Tubb’s “Driving Nails in My Coffin,” all of which appear herein. As for the other five, Moten has said that Gill “surprised” her with them on the day of recording to keep her sounding “spontaneous and fresh.” The strategy worked.

Nashville Tears: The Songs of Hugh Prestwood by Rumer: Except maybe in Nashville, into whose Songwriters’ Hall of Fame he was inducted 14 years ago, Hugh Prestwood is not a household name. But if this album gets the attention it deserves, the situation could change. His country-folk, country-pop, and country-country inclinations give Rumer something new against which to test her velvet alto, resulting in one quiet revelation after another. One example: Both “Hard Times for Lovers” (a minor hit for Judy Collins in the Me Decade) and “Ghost in This House” (a major hit for Shenandoah in whatever the ’90s were) cast divorce in a negative light. But they’ve never reinforced each other by appearing in the same place until now.


The psychedelically inclined pop experimentalists Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper, and Jesse Chandler—aka Mercury Rev—chose wisely when they made Bobbie Gentry’s sophomore effort the basis of their entry into the album-covering sweepstakes last year. Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited (Partisan/Bella Union) capitalizes on the multifaceted nature of the original.

First, it honors Gentry’s stylistic roots smorgasbord by transferring its mosaiclike quality from the instrumentation to the vocals, enlisting a different female singer for each track. Some of them are relatively obscure (Hope Sandoval, Lætitia Sadier), some relatively well known (Beth Orton, Phoebe Bridgers), and two are bona fide stars (Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams). Second, the album imbues the smorgasbord with an otherworldly dreaminess faithful to the spirit of Gentry’s conceptual philosophy. The only dodgy call is the replacing of “Louisiana Man” with “Ode to Billie Joe” and convincing one of the bona fide stars to sing it.