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TONY JOE WHITE - Swamp Music
[4 CD Box Set] (2006)
This overstuffed box not only includes all three of Tony Joe White's initial albums for Monument, but adds dozens of extra songs and outtakes, most of which have never been heard before, and includes a fourth disc of previously unreleased live and studio tracks. It's a cornucopia of material, nearly all of it worth hearing, but due to its near obsessive vault clearing, the hefty list price, and its limited-edition status (only 5000 were pressed), it is clearly geared to the obsessive White enthusiast. Even though the singer/songwriter/guitarist was signed to Monument in 1966 (both sides of his rare debut single appear as extras on this set's version of Black and White), his first album was not recorded until 1969. By that time White had pretty much nailed the distinctive and ultimately trademark swamp sound that he mined for the rest of his career. The musky yet melodic songs, evocative lyrics and mid-tempo rhythms married to White's baritone voice reveled in his scrappy Louisiana roots. His first disc kicks off with "Willie and Laura Mae Jones," a steaming slice of the backwoods pop that, like most of his finest work, effortlessly combined blues, country and folk. While others had worked similar territory previously, in particular Bobbie Gentry (her "Ode to Billy Joe" was a major inspiration for White), he infused a rock and R&B sensibility that drove the music with gritty authenticity and his "whomper stomper" wah-wah pedal. Most impressive is the amount of material recorded during the period 1969-1971, the three years covered here. Of these 64 studio tracks and outtakes, all but approximately 20 are originals and most are well worth hearing. Billy Swan remained White's producer throughout these albums, and even though some critics find his strings and horns to be unnecessary embellishments, the sweetening seldom overwhelms the music. White rather reluctantly agrees in his interview available in the informative 36-page book that brings additional value to this compilation. The fourth disc features his entire seven-song performance at 1970s Isle of Wight concert. White is joined by Jeff Beck's drummer Cozy Powell, who he had first met earlier that day, and the duo burn through a sizzling set highlighted by a six-minute version of his biggest hit, "Polk Salad Annie." The compilers also unearth a previously unreleased, solo, ten track studio session recorded in Paris in March of 1969 where White covers Gentry's "Mississippi Delta" along with Bob Dylan, Don Covay and Joe Tex, along with a few originals. Not quite essential, it's still more than worthwhile and fans will enjoy experiencing White in his most stripped down format. It's a fitting coda for a long overdue and neatly packaged appreciation of Tony Joe White's significant influence on American roots music. - allmusic.com
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