Tony Joe White

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Uncovered Review

by Thom Jurek

Swamp Fox indeed. At this juncture, Tony Joe White should be called the Swamp Monster because on Uncovered he takes it to the limit. There are seven new cuts on Uncovered, and reworked versions of "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Taking the Midnight Train," and "Did Somebody Make a Fool Out of You." White has been making records for a long time, though not many in the U.S. noticed after the late '70s. Since late in the last century, White has been kicking them out from his home studio in Nash Vegas. The sound is trademark, slow-burning, and growling. It's sultry as a late August night in the bayou. There are also, as is becoming de rigueur for legends these days, some surprise guest appearances. White has used them before and recently, on his killer Heroines set, where he played and sang with Shelby Lynne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris. This time out he's got some great partners. He cut "Not One Bad Thought," with Mark Knopfler. The skittering interplay between them is worth the disc price to be sure. The pair apparently got together around a campfire with some food and beer and played the tune there first; they cut it in the studio shortly thereafter. Michael McDonald -- yep, that one -- guests on piano and vocals on "Don't Look Down," and it works like a charm, surprisingly. But the biggest news here is "Shakin' the Blues" with the late Waylon Jennings. It's one of the last performances he ever wrote or laid down on tape, and the pair feel like the old friends they are. White can sing or play with anybody, which is why his music translated so well to other performers -- primarily soul and R&B artists -- but when collaborating, that guitar and slow, drawling menace are so sinister, there's no mistake about whose tune it is. Only on "Shakin the Blues" does that feel different, because of the sheer strength of Jennings' enigma. On other tracks, such as "Louvelda," J.J. Cale contributed from Oklahoma, and wrote and sang two new verses for the song. Eric Clapton recorded his additions to "Did Somebody Make a Fool Out of You" from London and sent them -- ahhhh -- via digital technology. The whispering, funky blues of "Rebellion" when White lets it rip is another high point, and his band is perfectly suited to his pace and tension dynamic. "Rainy Night in Georgia," suffers not a bit from having been re-recorded. It's still one of the most beautiful songs to come out of the Deep South. The disc ends on an evil note with "Keeper of the Fire," with its fuzzed-out blues simmer and soulful backing vocals by Odessa Settles, and a horn section featuring Wayne Jackson on trumpet. White never needs to raise his voice because the power in its nearly whispered restraint has all the power of a slow-burning fire that becomes a blaze. For those who didn't already know, White is back -- with a vengeance.

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