Touch 'Em With Love is Bobbie Gentry's finest studio effort, a fascinatingly eclectic and genuinely affecting record that broadened her musical horizons far beyond the limitations of the Nashville sound. Its unexpectedly gritty, soulful production makes it something of a spiritual twin to Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis, also released in 1969 (both even feature renditions of "Son of a Preacher Man"): Gentry's husky, sensual delivery proves as ideally suited for the Southern-fried funk of the opening title track as it does for the bluegrass-flavored "Natural to Be Gone," deftly moving from genre to genre to encompass everything from faux-gospel ("Glory Hallelujah, How They'll Sing") to lushly orchestrated pop ("I Wouldn't Be Surprised," the disc's centerpiece). Even more eye-opening is that Gentry's originals stand tall alongside material from composers including Burt Bacharach ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again," which earned her a chart-topping single in the U.K.) and Jimmy Webb ("Where's the Playground, Johnny") -- her folky "Seasons Come, Seasons Go," an acute tale of lost love, offers Touch 'Em With Love's most profoundly beautiful moment. A truly great and tragically under-recognized album. ~ Jason Ankeny
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