The figure of Bobbie Gentry cuts a particularly enigmatic swath across the landscape of American popular music. She has written one of the bona fide archetypes in American folk-blues songs in "Ode to Billie Joe," an eerie, spooky tale whose secret -- who or what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge -- has never been revealed by Gentry. This song is the song for which she is best known, and in the late summer of 1967, it ruled the airwaves and caused more than its share of discussion and speculation. Its resultant album topped the charts for two weeks and went platinum in the same year that Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were released. But, unknown to most, Gentry issued eight of her own albums between 1967 and 1972 and one of duets with Glen Campbell; all of them were worthwhile, and revealed a wealth of musical styles, songwriting, song interpretations, and production. Chickasaw County Child is the third major compilation of Gentry's work issued since 2000. First there was EMI's The Capitol Years: Ode to Bobbie Gentry. It contained 21 tracks concentrating for the most part on Gentry's pop offerings for Capitol. In 2002, Australia's venerable Raven label issued An American Quilt: 1967-1974. Packed with 26 cuts, it shared a handful of tracks with the Capitol version, but spent the rest of its real estate on Gentry's spare, strange small rural narratives. Together the pair equaled different sides of an astonishingly wide spectrum.
Issued on Sony's Shout subsidiary, Chickasaw County Child contains the best of both worlds, because it walks the line dead center between them. Of its 23 tracks, it shares 17 with the Raven comp and seven with the Capitol comp -- five of which are not on the Raven issue. Here, along with "Ode to Billie Joe" and "Mississippi Delta," are "Fancy," "Apartment 21," "Marigolds and Tangerines," the amazing "Casket Vignette," "Girl from Cincinnati," the title track, the haunted "I Saw an Angel Die," and her final recording, "Another Place, Another Time," from the soundtrack to the 1974 film Macon County Line. In addition, there are three cuts unique to this collection: the stellar "Papa Won't You Let Me Go Downtown With You?," "Hurry, Tuesday Child," and "Bugs." Ultimately, none of them contain the two singles she released with Campbell -- "Let It Be Me" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream" (one would have to get an otherwise substandard budget comp on Curb for those) -- but it hardly matters. This set, with its excellent sound and great liner notes by Holly George-Warren, is the one to get for those truly curious about the breadth, depth, and dimension of Gentry's oeuvre. Until her albums are actually reissued, this is the only way to go. In fact, given the uniqueness of this compilation, it has become the definitive Bobbie Gentry statement on CD.