Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Bobbie Gentry In Four Easy Pieces, and Pass The Biscuits Please

The lavish “The Girl From Chickasaw County” collection is on its way to becoming the music box-set of the year, right when the compact disc format sails into its sunset era. After decades of low-level rumbling on behalf of The Legend of Bobbie Gentry, The Stuff been served by the overdue release of her entire Capitol Records efforts, and then some.

Legends of course need to grasp on to something more than core substance for real traction. The embellishments and the made-up stuff take care of things well enough when the personification of the legend itself/herself refuses to take the bait of publicity for any reason whatsoever. It remains to be seem what effect the glamorous box will have on The Legend: its most significant recent boost came courtesy of Neely Tucker from the Washington Post attempting - and failing - to flush Bobbie Gentry out in much the same way a zealous press would stalk a killer on the run. It doesn't seem too iconoclastic to suggest that 'finding where Bobbie Gentry lives' and 'a slow news day' are probably one and the same thing, but Legends can always use sustenance. Fifty years after the fact, Rolling Stone are finally on board with Bobbie Gentry - albeit dismissing her as a country artist. (In the counterculture heyday of the mag, artists who made career choices like Bobbie Gentry were only ever acknowledged with snotty contempt if they were acknowledged at all.)

While Bobbie Gentry’s 1967-71 Capitol recordings are almost her entire recorded output, they’re also representative of a career ethos which frustrates many who are looking for a musical integrity on their terms. Self-styled musicologists will miss the point of Bobbie Gentry if they’re looking for a slew of albums which 'legitimize' her as Swamp Rock’s First Goddess, and pop fans of the era might be wishing for a lot more Top 40 fodder of the Jimmy Webb persuasion. And that's too bad for them: Bobbie Gentry, you see has no interest at all in curating a legacy or a legend. And good luck to the self-appointed arbiters of what is highbrow and what is lowbrow because Bobby Gentry presents a paradox or two for further consideration.

The recordings aren't, or weren't, a woman's work in its entirety. They are however the best documentation we have. Which suggests the first bullet point regarding The Legend of Bobbie Gentry: