It was a happy day when the Swamp Fox, Tony Joe White, stopped listening to A&R men (who at one point, according to White, tried to exploit his deep voice and turn him into “Barry Joe White”) and decided to make records his own way – simple and straightforward, soulful and funky.
One byproduct on Uncovered is that we finally have a stellar version of White’s classic “Rainy Night In Georgia,” with John Catchings’ cello replacing the original, overly sweetened version from 1969.
“Georgia” was a hit for Brook Benton, and, like J.J. Cale, White has had more success as a songwriter than a recording artist – which is ironic, since both are such distinctive stylists, and ultimately the best interpreters of their material.
Tony Joe’s 2004 release, The Heroines, featured duets with such female vocalists as Emmylou Harris, Shelby Lynn, and White’s daughter, Michelle. Here the formula is switched, with male vocalists dueting on some tracks, but neither “concept” comes off as gimmicky, thanks to the singers chosen; for instance, Jessie Colter cameoed on Heroines, and her late husband (and White’s longtime friend), Waylon Jennings, crops up here, on his “Shakin’ The Blues.”
The duet concept was the brainchild of Tony Joe’s son, Jody White, who reveals himself to be a first-rate producer here. The aforementioned Cale co-wrote the eerie “Louvelda” – with his whispery vocal and ornamental, fuzzed guitar complementing White’s trademark fuzz-wah squawk.
Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton turn in fine appearances, on “Not One Bad Thought” and “Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You,” respectively, and, besides “Georgia,” White reprises his early-’70s tune “Taking The Midnight Train.”
In the liner notes’ special thanks, Tony Joe tells his guests, “If you ever need a little swamp guitar or harmonica on something, you know where I am!” Which begs the question, when do you not need Tony Joe’s swamp guitar and harmonica? Let’s hope someone takes him up on the offer.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.