REVIEW: Tony Joe White “Smoke From the Chimney”

Reviews

Tony Joe White – Smoke From the Chimney (Easy Eye Sound)

Tony Joe White (1943-2018) with a 5-decade career was an artist whose left-over songs & demos were often better than many other’s best material.

White wrote “Polk Salad Annie,” — had a hit with it in 1969 & then Elvis Presley lifted it to legendary status during his live shows. Elvis covered 3 White songs & many were covered by well-known artists such as Tina Turner (“Steamy Windows”), & Brook Benton (“Rainy Night In Georgia”).

Swamp rocker White (vocals/acoustic guitar) was still active up to 2018 (Bad Mouthin’ – Yep Roc Records). It may have been White’s dark deep vocal that prevented him from becoming a major singer but no doubt that like Mickey Newbury, John Loudermilk, Chip Taylor & Kris Kristofferson, maintained an unmistakable vocal & showcase.

He turned out LPs filled with storytelling songs that were polished with recordings that were excellent. It kept him as a reliable resource for many singers. Producer Dan Auerbach with Tony Joe’s son Jody fished through his Dad’s archive & then many of Nashville’s best studio musicians created a “new” Tony Joe White LP. The posthumous Smoke From the Chimney (Easy Eye Sound-Swamp Records/Drops May 7) is miraculous with its clarity, & presence. 

The bittersweet title cut opens & the distinctive Tony Joe White vocal is there with a George Harrison-type guitar. Maybe the rest is filler? No. “Boot Money,” crawls in equally compelling. The 9 originals are solid. Many engaging & catchy. This is a treasure trove of remarkable pieces from a stellar songwriter’s imagination.

There are too many musicians to mention but some are: Bobby Wood (keyboardist – played with Elvis, Dusty Springfield & Wilson Pickett), Paul Franklin (pedal steel ace), Marcus King (lead guitar), & Grammy & ACM award-winning fiddler Stuart Duncan – just a few. Many turn in exceptional performances & there’s a lyric insert with all names.

Not a weak cut. The snaky swampy lead guitar of Marcus King soars on “Bubba Jones.” This is another humid White tale in a “Polk Salad Annie,” tradition. A short story akin to Faulkner & Steinbeck. You can feel Spanish Moss on your neck, creepy birds squawking high in the trees & something splashing in the swamp.

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White was like the late John Prine. An American Treasure. He had the poignancy of a Tim Hardin & Townes Van Zandt. Elvis knew this, so did Brook Benton, Tina Turner & Willie Nelson. Their repertoire was made richer because of Tony Joe White.

Tony even invited Elvis to go fishing at his place in the Ozarks where no one would’ve known him or bothered him. Elvis would’ve lived longer had he hung out with Tony Joe White.

“Does anyone know, someone is crying, the salt mixes with her tears, she turns away & moves into the sunset, she has walked these shores for years….” RIP Tony. Thanks.

The 43-minute CD is available @ Amazon & https://www.tonyjoewhite.com/

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