Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, a massive hit in 1967, is the template for this compilation of storytelling songs of the American south, all of them released in the following five years, a fairly tumultuous period in The States. The album is the latest to be compiled for Ace Records by Bob Stanley and Martin Green (both with a fine pedigree in dredging up fantastic songs from the past) and Choctaw Ridge is a fascinating listen whether you are au fait with the period or just intrigued by the approving mentions of it on social media in advance of its release.
Ode To Billy Joe itself isn’t present but Gentry does appear on Belinda, a banjo driven tale of a lonesome bar room dancer, and it’s snapshots such as this which pepper the album. Well-known names such as Dolly Parton, Mike Nesmith, John Hartford and Kenny Rogers all appear but lesser known artists such as Rob Galbraith, Sammi Smith and Henson Cargill can startle with their contributions. Aside from Gentry, Lee Hazlewood gets credit for originating this amalgam of country and pop and he has two appearances here while Jim Ford and Tony Joe White provide some swampier moments.
The album is a rich tapestry of adventurous styles, intricate arrangements, and songs some of which, at the time, ventured into territory rarely spoken about never mind being played on the radio. It’s a fabulous listen.