Monday, April 05, 2010

Bobbie Gentry to Dusty Springfield - Two Great Singers

Bobbie Gentry remains one of the most interesting and underappreciated artists to emerge out of Nashville during the late '60s. Best-known for her crossover smash "Ode to Billie Joe," she was one of the first female country artists to write and produce much of her own material, forging an idiosyncratic, pop-inspired sound that, in tandem with her glamorous, bombshell image, anticipated the rise of latter-day superstars like Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Of Portuguese descent, Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County, MS, on July 27, 1944; her parents divorced shortly after her birth and she was raised in poverty on her grandparents' farm. After her grandmother traded one of the family's milk cows for a neighbor's piano, seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, "My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog," years later self-deprecatingly reprised in her nightclub act; at 13, she moved to Arcadia, CA, to live with her mother, soon beginning her performing career in local country clubs. The 1952 film Ruby Gentry lent the singer her stage surname.

After graduating high school, Gentry settled in Las Vegas, where she appeared in the Les Folies Berg

I hadn't heard the Ode to Billy Joe for years and couldn't resist including her version of a great song, best sung by Dusty Springfield, Son of a Preacher Man.

“Son of a Preacher Man” remains the shimmering highlight of an album full of them. Dusty Springfield is a soul singer here, and like any great soul singer, she takes her time. She coos and calmly explains her joyous predicament. She very well could be black, but by the end of the track that issue becomes moot. Near the end, she reasons in a hushed tone, “I guess he was the son of a preacher man”. She stretches and lays her voice around the arrangement like a frontier person laying claim to some land. Most importantly, you believe her. There’s a remarkable conviction in her vocal that illuminates the song and drives it (along with it’s irresistible production, with the Memphis Cats going to town).
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