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Yep Roc (CDYEP2450)

Hoochie Woman, The Bad Wind, Rain Crow, The Opening Of The Box, Right Back In The Fire, The Middle Of Nowhere, Conjure Child, Where Do They Go, Tell Me A Swamp Story

A new album, his nineteenth studio album in total,  from the unofficial king of swamp rock and his first since the critically-acclaimed 2013 return of Hoodoo (CDYEP2348).

These nine tracks offer up another southern-fried helping of blues, country, rock and folk, all bouncing around under that distinctive 72 year old voice, which gets croakier and mumblier the older he gets. On any one else’s albums this may be a problem, but here it simply adds to the backwoods bayou atmosphere and vibe, as created by White and his smashing fuzzed out and trebly guitar in conjunction with the sparse musical support of (often) not much more than the bass and drums of Steve Forrest and Brian Owings

Indeed, it is this atmosphere and vibe that, on first listen, dominates proceedings and it takes a few listens for the splendour of the individual songs to reveal themselves. As you would expect from the composer of classics such as Polk Salad Annie and Rainy Night In Georgia, the real underlying strength of any Tony Joe White album is the quality of the songs and, as  this album admirably demonstrates, his capacity to spin a story within the context of a four or five minute song remains  undimmed.

Perhaps the best song included here (or maybe just my own personal favourite) is The Opening Of The Box, a wistful but mysterious reflection on a threatened relationship, but every track is a real winner. The Bad Wind unveils a murderous short story under-pinned by a spaghetti-western musical soundtrack and lifted by a fabulous guitar riff.  And The Middle Of Nowhere, co-written by friend and actor Billy Bob Thornton, is inhabited by a collection of characters trying to get by in the backwoods of the bayou.

Tony Joe White has long been an uncompromising artist and he does what he does the way he likes it done. He barely makes any concessions by trying things out just to make his music more popular, so if you want to engage with him, you have to meet him on his terms; he isn’t gonna come to you. But, as this album so amply proves, the journey and effort is well worthwhile.

Review Date: June 2016

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