Reviewed by Rob Dickens.
Tony Joe White – Rain Crow (Yep Roc)
He’s released around sixteen studio albums since his debut (Black and White) in 1969.
His two biggest hits ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ were penned about that time (reportedly written in the same week!!) and there have been so many covers of those songs, I would imagine that there’s been a steady flow of royalty income for many years.
White’s last release 2013’s Hoodoo showed no signs of his light diminishing.
So what’s left for White to prove?
Rain Crow (Yep Roc Records) sees his familiar swamp groove to the fore, with fuzzed-up guitars, belting percussion and that half-talking, dusty, baritone voice dominant. As he gets older, his music is getting meaner and gruffer and that is what makes this album such a pleasure.
Take the opening track ‘Hoochie Coochie Woman’ – it lays a steady groove that won’t let go, the evocative lyrics cover it all – swamp land, cooking ‘crawdads’ voodoo trances, tattoos and moonshine. The closing track ‘Tell Me a Swamp Story’ might well be White’s anthem. In between we have that laconic voice, drums, bass and keyboards laying down the stripped back groove for nine songs, all around the 4 to 6 minute mark. Plenty of room for provocative story-telling, but there’s no excess to be found here.
‘The Bad Wind’ tells of murder and near insanity, while ‘Middle of Nowhere’ (co-written with Billy Bob Thornton) reflects on a child’s view of life around him many years ago, with the constant ominous presence of ‘the crossroads’.
The album was recorded in White’s own studio (Church St) in Franklin, near Nashville and his son Jody is producer. Bryan Owings (drums and percussion), Steve Forrest (Bass) and Tyson Rogers (keys) join White senior’s guitar and harmonica.
Getting older is not slowing White down, in fact it’s firing him up as he continues to make records the way he wants, never needing to bend to commerciality or compromise his aesthetic.