Sunday, 10 July 2016

"The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings" by TONY JOE WHITE (2015 Real Gone Music 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Got A Thing About You..."

Tony Joe White's initial career - his first flourish on Monument Records between 1968 and 1970 - followed by three albums on Warner Brothers between 1971 and 1973 - have always been hard to find on both vinyl and CD in the UK (without paying through the nose for such digital delights).

This rather fantastic 2CD haul from US reissue label 'Real Gone Music' lumps together his hugely collectable and revered three WB albums - "Tony Joe White" from 1971, "The Train I'm On" from 1972 and "Homemade Ice Cream" from 1973 - and throws in six rare non-album 7" single sides (I believe) seeing the first digital light of day anywhere.

I've reviewed about eight 'Real Gone Music' CD reissues most of which have been to do with Atlantic Records Soul Artists of the 60ts and 70ts and every one of them has been exemplary in both sound and presentation. They appear to have arisen out of the ashes of 'Rhino' - picking up their reissue baton with great style. Of late (2014 to 2016) they've begun to issue Rock and Pop Artists too - out-of-print acts originally issued on the WEA umbrella of labels - Loudon Wainwright, Vanilla Fudge, Doug Sahm and this - the fab Tony Joe White. Time to get to the nitty gritty...

USA released February 2015 - "The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings" by TONY JOE WHITE on Real Gone Music RGM-0329 (Barcode 848064003298) is a 40-track 2CD set offering 3 full 70ts albums with six rare single sides and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (77:02 minutes)
1. They Caught The Devil And Put In Jail In Eudora, Arkansas
2. The Change
3. My Kind Of Woman
4. The Daddy
5. Black Panther Swamps
6. Five Summers For Jimmy [Side 2]
7. A Night In The Life Of A Swamp Fox
8. Travelling Bone
9. I Just Walked Away
10. Copper Kettle
11. Voodoo Village
Tracks 1 to 11 are his fourth studio album "Tony Joe White" (debut for Warner Brothers) - released March 1971 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 1900 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46068.  Produced by PETER ASHER – it peaked at No. 167 on the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).  All songs are TJW originals except "Copper Kettle" by Bob Dylan and "Voodoo Village" by Lee Ann White.

12. Lustful Earl And The Married Woman - non-album B-side to "I Just Walked Away" - February 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7505
13. Delta Love
14. That On The Road Look - Tracks 13 and 14 are the non-album A&B-sides of a July 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7523
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 written by Tony Joe White

15. I've Got A Thing About You Baby
16. The Family
17. If I Ever Saw A Good Thing
18. Beouf River Road
19. The Train I'm On
20. Even Trolls Love Rock And Roll
Tracks 15 to 20 are Side 1 of his fifth studio album "The Train I'm On" (second for Warners) - released April 1972 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2580 and June 1971 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46147.

Disc 2 (67:21 minutes):
1. As The Crow Flies
2. Take Time To Love
3. 300 Pounds Of Hongry
4. The Migrant
5. Sidewalk Hobo
6. The Gospel Singer
Tracks 1 to 6 are Side 2 of his fifth studio album "The Train I'm On" (second for Warners) - released April 1972 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2580 and July 1972 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46147. Produced by JERRY WEXLER and TOM DOWD - it didn't chart in either country. All songs written by TJW except "The Family" by Jon Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins, "Take Time To Love" a co-write between TJW and Donnie Fritts and "300 Pounds Of Hongry" written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts.

7. Saturday Night In Oak Grove
8. For 'Ol Time Sake
9. I Want Love ('Tween You And Me)
10. Homemade Ice Cream
11. Ol' Mother Earth
12. Lazy
13. California On My Mind [Side 2]
14. Backwoods Preacher Man
15. Takin' The Midnight Train
16. No News Is Good News
17. Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You
Tracks 7 to 17 are his sixth studio album (final for Warners) - "Homemade Ice Cream" - released June 1973 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2708 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46229

18. Sign Of The Lion - non-album A-side of a March 1974 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers WB 7780
19. Don't Let The Door (Hit You in The Butt)
20. Wishful Thinking - non-album A&B-sides of a October 1974 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers WBS 8042
Tracks 18 to 20 written by TJW

This 2CD set will allow fans to sequence all his period US and UK 7" singles as follows:
1. The Daddy b/w Voodoo Village (February 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7468)
2. My Kind Of Woman b/w I Just Walked Away (May 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7477)
3. I Just Walked Away b/w Lustful Earl And The Married Woman (July 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7505)
4. Delta Love b/w That On The Road Look (September 1971 USA 7" single on Warner Brothers 7523)
1. A Night In The Life Of A Swamp Fox b/w The Daddy (June 1971 UK 7" single on Warner Brothers WB 6129)
2. I've Got A Thing About You Baby b/w The Gospel Singer (July 1972 UK 7" single on Warner Brothers K 16200)
3. Backwoods Preacher Man b/w Saturday Night In Oak Grove, Louisiana (November 1973 UK 7" single on Warner Brothers K 16294)
4. I've Got A Thing About You Baby/Did Somebody Make A Fool Of You [Side 1]
If I Ever Saw A Good Thing/California On My Mind [Side 2] (1974 UK 4-Track EP on Warner Brothers K 16411)

The 20-page booklet is a very tasty affair - new liner notes from BEN EDMONDS that go into the history of the three albums - full page plates of each LP cover as well as the gatefold and rear artwork - period photos of TJW in colour and black and white, original recording personnel and details and some reissue credits (no lyrics).

I've had the 'Sepia Tone' US CD Remasters of "Tony Joe White" and "The Train I'm On" from 2002 and to my ears - there's virtually no difference in sound quality on either of those titles - that is to say you get gorgeous Audio on the lot. Oddly for a RGM release there are no mastering credits at all - but as I've already said these CDs sound glorious. Taking a track like the magnificent and socially aware "Sidewalk Hobo" off the "Homemade Ice Cream" LP which is just Tony Joe White and his Acoustic Guitar or the lovely electric guitar and keyboard hustle of "The Change" from the first album - the audio is clean yet full of presence. Only the single B-side "Lustful Earl..." and maybe "Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You" have more hiss on them than most would like - but the latter is such a good song - you don't notice once the song hits its groove.

Quite why someone in Warner Brothers UK thought that "The Daddy" should have been the B-side and not the A (as it was in the USA) is anybody's guess – but that song is 'pretty'. I mention this because when he’s not Country Funkin' tunes like the guitar-chug of "My Kind Of Woman" and the slightly bitter 'twats at gigs' song "A Night In The Life Of A Swamp Fox" - Tony Joe White could pen a beautiful melody that would stay with you. "Five Summers For Jimmy" is an example - a 'supper table' tale of a woman dreaming of the one she loved who had to 'go off to fight'. It's an acoustic strum with occasional Bob Dylan harmonica jabs and you can 'so' hear Bruce Springsteen's Acoustic forays later on in his career originating here. The same can be said of the Dan Penn soulfulness that seeps through the organ-driven "I Just Walked Away". Despite his obvious dislike for the tag - Swamp Rock was not far away - "Traveling Bone" and the Memphis Horns Funk of the album finisher "Voodoo Village" complete with Meters guitars and Tony Joe doing his best Hog snorts throughout.

But my real poison is his 2nd platter - "The Train I'm On". He seemed to hit his songwriter stride with this record - opening with the gorgeous and infectious "I've Got A Thing About You Baby". Even now it's truly unbelievable that this made-for-Radio and Top Of The Pops smash wasn't just that - a smash. His July 1969 "Pork Salad Annie" would remain his only US chart placing he'd achieve. In a rare cover - he then goes into pure storytelling with John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins song "The Family" - a boy gone wrong with hard times at harvest time. The kid took the train out of there - and you can't help feeling TJ recognised his need to do so. The Fats Domino roll to "If I Ever Saw A Good Thing" make it a happy tune - but far better is the menacing Jews Harp of Ronnie Hawkins on the chugger "Beouf River Road" - a dirty water rising song that could easily have been 1969 Creedence. Back to organ melody for the languid title track "The Train I'm On" where Tony urges us to shed no tears even if the rolling stock sounds lonesome. Side 1 ends with a slice of TJW genius which he plays to this day - the Funky and Funny "Even Trolls Love Rock And Roll" where Tony Joe and his band are on their way to a local gig and on a wooden bridge are accosted by a 'troll' interested in the boogie. He offers them a few licks and on the evidence presented here - his intervention worked.

Side 2 opens with "As The Crow Flies" which Rory Gallagher covered on his awesome "Irish Tour '74" double album on Polydor Records (a stunning studio variant of this turned up on the posthumous Gallagher CD release "Wheels Within Wheels" from 2003 where RG plays a mean National Steel throughout). As it swanks along you can 'feel' the Funk that underlies so much of TJ's output - a wicked groove that doesn't let up. Even if it is a tad syrupy - the sentiment in "Take Time To Love" is strong and sincere even if it is drowned in too many strings. But then we get a four-song-whammy of brilliance - the overweight "300 Pounds Of Hongry" has turned up on Country Soul CD compilations because of its great Funky groove. But warmth like "The Migrant" and the already mentioned brilliance of "Sidewalk Hobo" are the kind of overlooked album gems that make me want to write reviews till my fingers bleed. It ends of "The Gospel Singer" - a wicked Pops Staples guitar groove about as a less-than-angelic singer who sang to the sick and crippled whilst eyeing the ladies in the audience and the whiskey bottle by the door (the perfect B-side to "I've Got A Thing About You Baby").

Album Number Three opens with the grunting 'comb your hair and put your good clothes on' Funk of "Saturday Night In Oak Grove, Louisiana" where his pals turn with mufflers on the exhausts of their pick-ups - ready for the dancing 'Dairy Queens' who will steal their hearts (and money). There then follows a 'don't walk out on me' pleading ballad where TJ wants her to reconsider freedom "For Ol' Times Sake". Similar pain strums its way through "Takin' The Midnight Train" because 'someone hurt me for no reason' - another tale of the road that is simple but so effective. Just as mellow but prettier is "Ol' Mother Earth" where he talks of the planet as a woman with 'too many scars on her face'. "I Want Love ('Tween You And Me)" is a catchy upbeat piano ditty and the title track "Homemade Ice Cream" feels like America with a Harmonica on an Instrumental tip. But the big songs on the album are the wide-brimmed hat strut of "Backwoods Preacher Man" (beloved on Country Soul Funksters) and the melodious grower "Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You" - the kind of song that works its way into your heart like the best of J.J. Cale from the period. And I wasn't expecting the stand-alone single "Sign Of The Lion" to be so Meters Funky. Genius and then some...

At just under twenty squid for three rare albums and six even rarer single sides - "The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings" is a fabulous way of getting this classy artist and his primo music in one place - and sounding like the business too.

"...He built a lot of homes but never had one..." - Tony Joe White sings on the touching "Sidewalk Hobo". Make a home for this in your house...

PS: see also my in-depth review for the stunning 2006 Rhino Handmade 4CD Mini Box Set "Swamp Music: The Complete Monument Recordings" which deals with the 1968-1970 part of Tony Joe White's career...

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