Spanning a career over half a century, one of the most memorable guitar tones and vocal deliveries ever to grace Nashville, and a Lightnin’ Hopkins obsession that may rival my very own neurosis, Tony Joe White is the story pole by which all songwriters and artists in general should be gauged. The swampy sentry’s latest effort Rain Crow comes out May 27th on Yep Roc. Nine of the newest songs penned by White, and a couple of team-ups with wife Leann and one old buddy, Billy Bob Thornton on “The Middle Of Nowhere”.
Tony Joe White is an American treasure, someone ought to wrap him with bubble wrap saving ample room for a guitar and amp to forever capture those fuzzy boogie beats — as entrancing as Kimbrough, enshrining as Cash, and as original as Prince. White’s spooky swamp blues and custom muscadine make-out music are ever-present on Rain Crow, sharply charted with album opener “Hoochie Woman” and brought to task on “Right Back in the Fire”. White captured the driving chordal spins of Mississippi Hill Country Blues and swamped them up years ago, slathered in moccasin and catfish littered flat water and washed through a pedal of mossy swamp oaks and the gentle hum of an air boat motor.
“Conjure Child” turns up the bayou tales White is so known for. A precautionary narrative of sorts all held together by the loose licks of White’s Stratocaster and a minimalist percussive stack of shakers, taps, and pats. White was immortalized in episode 3 of Dave Grohl and company’s HBO series Sonic Highways which led to an appearance on the now retired David Letterman’s legendary almost nightly chuckle fest performing with the Foo’s. After a sweltering version of Tony Joe White’s most famous ditty “Polk Salad Annie” Letterman blurted, “If I was this guy, you could all kiss my ass”. Clearly feeling his oats after an inspired performance, an exemplary moment caught to tape of the insidiousness of White’s songs, and Tony Joe the man/performer.
Rain Crow is a giant gem from start to end, a transcendental guided jaunt through the heart and soul of a bonafide country, soul, blues, and American Roots music legend. An artist’s artist, one respected and idolized, copied and sanctified, mused and used. A true master of solidarity and keeping things real, the man writes what he knows and plays what he feels, some folks just have it like that…this, folks, is the real deal — An institute and a treasure. Feel free to do some research if you’re not akin!
Originally published at Glide Magazine 5/3/16