In cautarea lui Bobbie Gentry: Tara Murtha si o echipa de muzicieni Philly exploreaza Ode catre Billie Joe – The Key

Clasicul Ode To Billie Joe de la Bobbie Gentry va fi explorat intr-o noua carte de 33 1/3 si interpretata de muzicienii Philly, vineri, la Free at Noon and Underground Arts

Cand Tara Murtha a auzit pentru prima data muzica lui Bobbie Gentry, nu-i venea sa creada ca nu a gasit-o mai devreme.

In urma cu aproximativ opt ani, atunci cand scriitorul din Philadelphia a inceput sa se intalneasca cu acum, sotul ei, Jesse Lundy. Ea o caracterizeaza drept punctul intr-o relatie in care un partener incearca sa-l impresioneze pe celalalt, sa-si arate un pic gustul, iar Lundy a facut asta cu o copie a Odei lui Billie Joe , LP de debut din 1967 de multifacetul muzician originar din Mississippi care a disparut din ochiul public in 1980.

Dupa ce a ascultat, Murtha a fost intrigat si a dus la Google pentru a afla mai multe. Primul lucru pe care l-a intalnit a fost un videoclip al lui Gentry on the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, inconjurat de dansatori in culori stralucitoare, care isi croieste drumul printr-un scenariu elaborat conceput ca o mlastina din Louisiana. Era in 1967 si isi canta interpretarea „Niki Hoeky”, o melodie de Jim Ford si Pat si Lolly Vegas.

„Am crezut ca aceasta femeie a fost uimitoare, cum nu am auzit despre ea?”, Isi aminteste Murtha intr-un interviu telefonic. „Aceasta a fost gaura de iepure pe care am cazut.

Pe 18 decembrie, franciza de 33 1/3 a lui Bloomsbury va publica explorarea lui Otu a lui Billie Joe de catre Murtha , dar este vorba despre ceva mai mult decat albumul.

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Seria populara de carti de buzunar studiaza inregistrari rock-uri iconice, uneori prin descrierile track-by-track drepte; alteori, cum ar fi memoriile Daphne Brooks incadrata in jurul lui Jeff Buckley a lui Grace si Novella fictiv John Darnielle lui implica Black Sabbath lui Masters de realitate , ele sunt ruminatiilor mai abstracte. Murtha nu face nici o abordare, prezentand in schimb o istorie a lui Bobbie Gentry ca un artist misterios si neinteles, analizat prin obiectivul inregistrarii.

Aici, in Philadelphia, exista si o componenta de muzica live la carte. Murtha a batut o mana de muzicieni locali, condusa de omniprezentul basist vertical Phil D’Agostino, pentru a organiza un album tribut. Numindu-se The Lower 40, trupa interpreteaza discul in aceasta vineri, in cadrul concertului WXPN Free at Noon, si titreaza petrecerea de lansare pentru cartea lui Murtha la Underground Arts, vineri seara.

Numele trupei este un semn din cap la o lirica din piesa de titlu: „Mai sunt inca cinci acri in cei patruzeci inferiori pe care trebuie sa-i plug.” Este suspinul si din umarul unui fermier din delta care, mai degraba decat sa jeleze sinuciderea unui adolescent local, noteaza doar mai multe lucrari pe care le are de facut.

Bobbie Gentry, fotografiat pentru un numar de 10 noiembrie 1967 al revistei Life, merge pe podul Tallahatchie mentionat in „Ode to Billie Joe”.

Acesta este un fel de punct al cantecului, care impacheteaza o multime de naratiuni in cele patru minute ale sale si se schimba; o familie asezata la masa lor de bucatarie, trecand biscuiti si murmurand placeri in timp ce se detasa total de o tragedie locala a tanarului Billie Joe McAllister, care tocmai sarise de pe podul Tallahatchie.

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Povestita in prima persoana de catre un narator fara nume – fiica familiei – „Billie Joe” este aratata si subtila intr-un fel in care alte melodii de moarte adolescente din anii ’60 nu au fost si au devenit atat de populare incat vanzarile albumului in cele din urma nu s-au nevazut The Beatles ” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band din partea de sus a topurilor Billboard.

O parte din popularitatea respectiva a avut legatura cu misterul. „De ce a sarit? Care a fost implicarea naratorului? Ce aruncau de pe pod? ” Era un fel de „Cine a ucis-o pe Laura Palmer?” din vremea sa, dar Murtha spune ca aceste detalii sunt doar un MacGuffin – un termen literar pentru un punct de complot care conduce toata actiunea, dar este in cele din urma irelevant. „Cred ca a scris-o in mod strategic in acest fel”, spune Murtha si, de ani buni, Gentry s-a confruntat cu intrebari despre acei whys si ce sunt in interviuri si a refuzat sa raspunda.

Misterul cantecului a fost unul dintre modurile in care Gentry s-a regasit in mod creativ – chiar daca a lansat albumele ulterioare, cu unele ( Fancy din 1970 ) obtinand si un succes comercial considerabil, accentul continuand sa se intoarca inapoi la cantecul popular de povesti din 1967 cu toate acele intrebari fara raspuns. (In cele din urma, o versiune de film a fost realizata in 1976 pentru a dezvalui toate secretele si l-a prezentat pe tanarul Billie Joe ca fiind confuz si indurerat dupa ce a avut o intalnire sexuala cu un alt barbat; dezbaterea dintre fani cu privire la intrebarile a continuat chiar si dupa.)

Un alt mod in care Gentry a fost introdus in box a fost ca cantaret country. Asa cum subliniaza Murtha in carte, ea a fost mai mult o cantareata pop, cu inclinatii country, iar pana la sfarsitul carierei a trecut complet de la vibratia de la domiciliu care a legat impreuna Billie Joe .

Chiar si acel album avea note de blues, jazz si sunete hawaiene. Ulterior, pe Fancy , a adoptat mai mult un sunet soul-rock din inregistrarea in Muscle Shoals, iar mai tarziu s-a ocupat de spectacole de teatru si televiziune, atat de la sfarsitul talentului, cat si la finalul productiei. Dar acestea nu sunt de obicei lucrurile despre care auzi cand apare numele ei.

„Este o melodie uimitoare”, spune Murtha despre „Billie Joe”. „Este greu de spus daca este cel mai bun ei; este cu siguranta cel mai semnificativ pentru ca a primit-o pe harta si atat de interesant pentru ca este cantata din punctul de vedere al primei persoane, a solidificat-o cu adevarat ca personalitate.

„Este cheia pentru cine este Bobbie Gentry”, spune Murtha. „Dar este, de asemenea, o sabie cu doua taisuri, prin faptul ca a prins-o intr-o persoana pe care a petrecut-o mult timp incercand sa transcende.”

Tara Murtha, autoarea cartii de 33 1/3 despre Ode catre Billie Joe | Fotografie de Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

Murtha was fascinated the more she learned about her career. As a musician and songwriter, as a woman in the history of music, and from a business standpoint, Bobbie Gentry was ahead of her time. It was never a question of whether Murtha was going to write about her, but how. She knew she wanted to go deeper than a magazine article would allow.

“Rosanne Cash is always talking about her, and did an entire record inspired by her,” Murtha says. “Tony Joe White talks about writing ‘Polk Salad Annie’ after listening to ‘Ode to Billie Joe.’ I kept seeing her mentioned, and knew I wanted to do something longer and more indepth.”

When the 33 1/3 call for submissions opened in 2011, she submitted a 75-page proposal for the project and was accepted. From there, Murtha set to work sorting through hundreds of names and conducting dozens of interviews with musical collaborators, people who knew and worked with Gentry, other journalists who have studied her.

Among the characters she talks to over the course of the book are Bryan Holley, a Southern Oregon man with a unique Gentry connection – his father married Gentry’s mother, and he inherited boxes of Gentry’s belongings playfully dubbed “the Bobbiebilia.”

There was also 82-year-old Capitol Records producer David Axelrod, quite a character with colorful stories to tell, and Jimmie Haskell, a string arranger from New York who is not certain but reasonably sure that the original music charts for Ode to Billie Joe are in a box in his garage somewhere.

Not everybody could be reached though. Most people she needed to talk to are very old; many are no longer living. She tried keeping track of how many names showed up as deceased in her research, but it became too morbid. (She says it hovers around 40.) “In many ways, it was a race against time,” Murtha says. “It’s been almost 50 years since the record was made.”

Gentry herself is still living a reculsive life, and Murtha attempted to make contact and interview her for the book, but she – through a business manager – politely declined to be interviewed. In the book, Murtha describes receiving the rejection letter from her subject with a mix of disappointment and respect. (“The woman just knows how to say no,” she writes.)

“I made my case. I requested, and I certainly didn’t think she’d say yes,” Murtha says. “I think she’s going to talk when she wants to, if she wants to. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day she wrote her book, if she’s been making music this whole time.

“Everybody I talked to about her says how she had showbiz in her blood, “ she adds, “how she was always thinking about next creative project, so I don’t think she would have just stopped being a creative person.”

Basistul Phil D’Agostino (dreapta) il va conduce pe The Lower 40 in tributul lui Bobbie Gentry de vineri | Fotografie de Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

Pentru concertul de vineri, o trupa de unsprezece piese va re-crea Ode lui Billie Joe , sub conducerea lui D’Agostino. El spune ca albumul a fost o provocare unica de aranjat – foaia de muzica nu este disponibila (intregul album nu a fost lansat digital pana de curand), asa ca a trebuit sa fie fragmentat de ureche. Si desi sunetul Odei  este adesea linistit si spatios, se intampla multe.

“It’s a big band, but minimal playing for the most part,” D’Agostino describes. “Rhythm guitar and bass are the only anchors for lack of a better word. Every other instrument is playing linear, melodic bits throughout. The string arrangements are ornate, but ornamental. The guts of the tunes are bass and guitar.”

He first learned the title song while gigging with Jay Ansill’s Cheese Project – a local tribute to 60s am radio hits. “I knew it from the Time Life commercials, those hits compilations,” D’Agostino laughs. “But that was the extent of it. I was aware of the song, and the mystique of the record; the folklore and how it was a portrait of life in the Mississippi delta. But I didn’t know the songs, so this was my first time really learning the material.”

The other players in The Lower 40 are guitarists Brad Hinton and Ross Bellenoit; singers Sue Rosetti, Birdie Busch, Alison Polans, Ali Wadsworth and Kerry Hallett; drummer Matt Muir; vibraphone player Carl Bahner; trombone player Larry Toft; trumpet player Adam Herschberger; the aforementioned Ansill on violin; and harmonica player Ansel Barnum.

D’Agostino said he tried to keep the group small (he estimates there were 20 players on the record) but couldn’t do it without sacrificing the sound.

“I kept thinking I’d be able to get away with not adding certain instruments,” he says. “And then as you go on, you realize how integral those instruments are. Like vibes – when you hear it on the album and realize it’s missing from your group, you go ‘oh man there are vibes on there, I wish we had a vibes player.’”

The vocalists will split the album’s ten track at two apiece – Murtha says Rosetti was one of the first that sprung to mind for her. “Every time I hear ‘Papa, Woncha Let Me Go to Town With You?’ [from Ode], I hear Sue’s voice,” she says. “And then she listened to the record and said ‘this is the song I want to do!’”

In the time since her interest in Gentry was first piqued, Murtha has seen other voices entering the conversation – singer-songwriters Beth Orton, Tift Merritt, and Jill Sobule, who wrote the intro to the 33 1/3 book; her 2009 album California includes a song called “Where is Bobbie Gentry?”

“It’s really gratifying beyond my book to see her legacy evening out, and having people who are really interested remembering her correctly,” Murtha says. “As a multiinstrumentalist, a pop composer, a songwriter and a producer, not just a country singer that had that one hit.”

Tara Murtha’s 33 1/3 Book Release with The Lower 40 takes place at Underground Arts on Friday, December 5th at 8 p.m.; tickets are available here. The Lower 40 also plays WXPN’s Free at Noon on Friday, December 5th; RSVP for the show here.

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Tags: Bobbie Gentry, Tara Murtha, Underground Arts