Hard to Handle

Tony Joe White

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Hard to Handle Review

by Tim Sendra

Tony Joe White's Hard to Handle album is built around a concert recording made in 1969 or 1970. It features White swaggering through a clutch of tough-as-rock blues and soul covers like Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Runnin'," as well as some originals. "I Want You" is a sludgy, nasty groover that has some truly scuzzy guitar solos and sounds like it could have come off a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion record, one of White's trademark swampy story songs "Roosevelt & Ira Lee (Night of the Moccasin)," and "When You Touch Me," a slight and uninteresting jam. Too bad the whole concert sounds like it was recorded through a wall of steel wool. The vocals are muffled at times; the sound cuts in and out and generally sounds no better than a hastily made bootleg. A couple of the songs ("I Want You" in particular) show White to be a dynamic performer with a lot more guts than one might imagine. As a dubious bonus, the record kicks off with a version of "Polk Salad Annie" that sounds like it was taped off the radio. It might be an alternate take, maybe a demo, more likely it is exactly what it sounds like. It shouldn't be here regardless. Too bad a live version of the song isn't. Fruit Tree's release of the set is one of the better packaged releases of this material, which has been released four or five times by various labels.

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