Tony Joe White
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Dec. 8, 2006
Tony Joe White
Swamp Music: The Complete Monument Recordings (Rhino Handmade)
Tony Joe White boasted one self-composed Top 10 hit in white-trash anthem "Polk Salad Annie" from 1969, not long before Elvis Presley added it into his repertoire. That hardly makes Louisiana-born White a one-hit wonder, as Swamp Music, Rhino Handmade's Internet-only, 4-CD anthology of his recordings attests. As a songwriter, he ranks with veterans Jimmy Webb and Lee Hazlewood: somewhere south of Kris Kristofferson. He cut hits for Dusty Springfield ("Willie and Laura Mae Jones") and Brook Benton ("Rainy Night in Georgia"), and could wax Dylanesque ("Dusty Marshmallow") as easily as cover him ("The Ballad of Hollis Brown"). Swamp Music corrals White's peak 1968-70 output into 81 songs packaged into cardboard miniatures of his three late-Sixties albums for Monument Records. Full-bodied Gulf Coast-influenced blues-rock ignites "Polk Salad Annie" and its country cousin "Old Man Willis," with White's fine vocals punctuated by distinctive grunts and growls. The first three discs contain White's original vinyl tracks followed by additional studio tracks; the fourth CD is split between solo studio cuts and live recordings from an Isle of Wight festival. All this makes Swamp Music compelling, even when its age shows in weak cover material like "Little Green Apples" and "This Guy's in Love With You." Like many Rhino Handmade boutique collections, Swamp Music isn't for the casual fan at its $79.98 list, but it's a damn fine example of the Gulf Coast sound.