The late, great, Louisiana-born Tony Joe White first gained fame mainly through his songwriting; 1969’s “Polk Salad Annie” was his only Top Ten hit, but artists such as Dusty Springfield (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones”), Brook Benton (“Rainy Night in Georgia”) and Elvis Presley (“For Ol’ Times Sake”; “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby”) took his songs to the charts. But White was always been a singular performer in his own right; the honeyed burr of his baritone, his alternately tough and tender vocal delivery and liberal use of his “whomper stomper” wah-wah pedal lend him a completely distinctive sound.
Simply put, nobody, but nobody, sounds like Tony Joe White, and on this 2-CD collection, we’ve rounded up all three of the classic albums he recorded for Warner Bros. in the early ‘70s—all of which are out of print and costing a mint online—plus non-LP singles to create The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings. Recorded in Memphis (partly at Ardent Studios of Big Star fame), 1971’s Tony Joe White paired him with producer Peter Asher (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt) and shifted the focus slightly from the fuzz-drenched swamp rock of White’s Monument recordings to a more introspective style, though “They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas” and “My Kind of Woman” could blow the doors off any roadhouse south of the Mason-Dixon line. White’s next album, 1972’s The Train I’m On, continued this gentler, more vulnerable style to great effect; produced by the legendary team of Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd, with the mighty Muscle Shoals sessioneers in support, Train’s set of songs tackled complex themes of dislocation, alienation and loss with a blend of blues, soul and folk highlighted by some beautiful acoustic guitar work by White and Tippy Armstrong. It’s a masterpiece. And 1973’s Homemade Ice Cream might be even better; White’s original version of “For Ol’ Times Sake” is just devastating, and “I Want Love (‘Tween You and Me),” “Taking the Midnight Train” and the title track are every bit as good. Co-producer Tom Dowd and a crack band of guitarist Reggie Young, bassist Norbert Putnam, drummer Kenny Malone and keyboardist David Briggs (of Neil Young fame) catch every nuance of these deceptively simple songs. Real Gone’s presentation of this essential material features liner notes by Ben Edmonds with quotes from Tony Joe White himself. Not to be missed.