CD Review: Hoodoo – Tony Joe White
Although alligator hunter Troy Landry may lay claim to the title of King of the Swamp on his History channel reality show Swamp People, the real king of the swamp has always been Tony Joe White. Dubbing his Fuzz boxed and wah-wah pedal enhanced guitar sound “whomper stomper,” White’s primordial ooze has been bubbling up from his Louisiana roots since his ’69 gator chomping swamp opera “Polk Salad Annie.”
Now celebrating his 70th birthday, White hasn’t changed much. He’s still got that backwater hoodoo vibe going on, a little dirtier and fuzzier, but still right in the swampy pocket for his latest, Hoodoo, on Yep Roc Records. Most of the tunes were done in one take, crackling with energy and oozing swampfunk.
White takes care of some graveyard bidness in “The Gift,” an Ebeneezer Scrooge type visitation in the boneyard by some bluesman haints who tell him it ain’t his time to go yet, he’s still got music left to share with the living.
“9 Foot Sack” is an autobiographical tale in the style of General Johnson’s “Patches,” describing what its like to work from can’t see to can’t see grubbing out a meager existence on a farm. “Wake us up at daylight/mama had breakfast on/ we ate like hongry wolves/walked out in the dark.” Daddy White farmed 40 acres of cotton by the river trying to support seven kids. “We was po but we didn’t know it,” White mumbles softly, his guitar doing an endless John Lee Hooker boogie behind him.
On “The Flood,” White addresses returning to his current Nashville home in the aftermath of the 2010 flood. “Hard to recognize the place,” White says as a harp wails mournfully behind his recollecting of the disaster. “Guitars floating down the river, drum sets washed up on the mud…..so many losing their possessions/homeless people living in their little tents.”
But White is a survivor, not just of the flood but of a long career in the music business, unlike his protagonist in “Holed Up,” hunkered down in his little Airstream trailer, chicken bones on the floor dirty dishes in the sink, refusing to answer the door or the phone. “I’d like to get down, but I can’t get up,” White moans, confessing that since the water heater broke he’s working up a fonk, fixing to crawl back in his bunk and cover up. “I may be losing it, don’t need it no mo,” his holed up character complains. But as he demonstrates on Hoodoo, White’s not quite ready to crawl under the covers and call it quits. He says he’ll go when the songs no longer come to him. But for now at least, White’s still able to dig plenty of mucky treasures from the swamp, fit for a king and plenty good enough for the rest of us to enjoy.