It’s been fifty years since Tony Joe White stepped into the spotlight with his Muscle Shoals-infused debut Black and White, and its iconic single “Polk Salad Annie.” He continued to thread his southern roots through five decades of touring and solo albums, even as he wrote for and produced other artists. His trademark swamp sounds bubbled up in recent releases for Yep Roc, including 2013’s Hoodoo and 2016’s Rain Crow, but this third album for the label takes him down and low into the blues. The track list includes six originals, and five covers highlighted by John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” and a take on “Heartbreak Hotel” that’s more a withered admission than a repeat of Elvis Presley’s plaintive cry.
The backings alternate between acoustic and electric, the former offering crisp counterpoint to the weariness of White’s vocals, and the latter leaning on low electric guitar and the spare snare and bass drum of Bryan Owings. One might be lulled into experiencing the album’s crawling tempos as an expression of exhaustion, but the power in White’s voice is akin to the weight of a fully-loaded freight slowly pushing its way down the track. Stripping down to solo and spare duos lets the emotion of his rumbling vocals set the tone for his rhythm guitar, harmonica and lyrics. At 75, White’s putting everything he’s learned and felt into his music, singing in half-whispered exhalations that draw you into an intimate album of blues confessions. [©2018 Hyperbolium]