January 19

Lucinda Williams Blends Her Native Louisiana Grit To “Ode To Billie Joe”

Indeed, the amazing thing happened when three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams blended her native Louisiana grit with the Southern Gothic of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

In 2019, American rock band Mercury Rev re-imagined country icon Bobbie Gentry‘s The Delta Sweete album in a project called Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited – which is composed of various singers from different generations and genres on every single song. 

The thorough upending of Gentry’s 1968 masterpiece includes Norah Jones’ take on “Okolona River Bottom Band,” Hope Sandoval’s “Big Boss Man,” and Phoebe Bridgers’ “Jessye’ Lisabeth,” among others. The disc then wraps up with “Ode to Billie Joe,” as sung by Williams.

While The Delta Sweete was considered a commercial flop that almost wrecked Gentry’s career, its influence on subsequent generations is beyond comparison. 

Lucinda Williams Bringing Out One Of The Era’s Enduring Mysteries

Written by Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe” was originally released in 1967 as the title track to Gentry’s debut album. It was a massive hit that it ranked No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 while ranking No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It also led to Gentry being nominated for eight Grammy Awards.

RELATED: Bobbie Gentry’s Tale of Unshared Grief in “Ode to Billie Joe”

And there’s no better artist to match such an impressive feat quite like Lucinda Williams, who is known for her strong and distinctive voice and who received critical acclaim for her label-defying music.

“Ode to Billie Joe” tells the story of a young girl who was shaken up after hearing the news that Billie Joe McAllister jumped to his death from a nearby Tallahatchie Bridge. While it tells the tragic story of life, it’s amazing how Williams was able to capture the song’s haunting nature through her voice. 

Singing from the perspective of a frightened little girl, there were hints of anger and regret in Williams’ vocals as soon as her mama broke the terrifying news in the middle of dinner. Meanwhile, a tinged of pain was evident as Williams wrapped up the song, being the little girl who grew a year older, dropping some flowers into the muddy water of Tallahatchie Bridge.

Indeed, Williams told the story so well that her rendition will send chills down your spine.

Tune in and play the video below to listen to Lucinda Williams’ rendition of “Ode to Billie Joe.”


Lucinda Williams

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