Tony Joe White has always had the persona of being Elvis Presley’s wilder, funkier swamp cousin. This happened even before Elvis covered White’s stone cold hit “Polk Salad Annie.” They have similar vocal styles and a physical resemblance.
However, White’s music is devoid of the contrived Vegas elements of Presley. This recent compilation of White’s albums Tony Joe White, The Train I’m On, and Homemade Ice Cream combines the best of soul, funk, country, and folk. White here conveys a menacing authority on songs such as “Black Panther Swamp” and the lost classic “They Caught the Devil and Put Him In Jail in Eudora, Arkansas.” But it’s not all Southern gothic bluster.
White has a great sensitive side that comes out in his advice on closing-the-generation-gap song “The Daddy” and “I Want Love (‘Tween You and Me.)” He even shows off a great sense of humor on the humorous “Even Trolls Love Rock And Roll.” His music is Southern with all the nuances that much of the current Southern or country music scene overwhelms with the patriotic, backwards baseball cap and pickup truck sheen that is about to become a parody.
White is a great storyteller, and his voice lends itself to the intimate details that give his songs authenticity. Even though this is very male music, he does tenderness so well that it never alienates listeners who might not prefer other music with that characteristic.
Tony Joe White and his music are ripe for a comeback and re-evaluation, and these three records, with nary a clinker, should do exactly that.