The Best of Tony Joe White
The years 1968 to 1973 were prolific and musically mind-blowing for singer/songwriter Tony Joe White. His music is filled with dirt-poor characters and themes that detail the South. There are alcoholic hillfolk (“Old Man Willis”), detached lawmen (“High Sheriff of Calhoun County”), wild pokeweed and mean alligators (“Polk Salad Annie,” his massive hit), iterant hell drivers (“Backwoods Preacher Man”), futile racism (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones”), and nights spent circling the local Dairy Queen (“Saturday Night in Oak Grove, Louisiana”). Strings, horns, Jew’s harps, guitars, Hammond organs, and lots of acoustic instruments uphold arrangements that shift effortlessly from spare, haunting folk to shuffle-country boogie to charging R&B and rock ’n’ roll (the kind popularized by Creedence Clearwater Revival). White shows how music only hits the soul when it’s rooted in some kind of authenticity. That’s why he’s the master of the swamp song: an ear-bending blend of R&B, gospel, soul and rock ’n’ roll. Noted producers on this set include Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler, Billy Swan, and Peter Asher.