Is that Bob Dylan? The photo on the cover of Tony Joe White’s latest release, The Shine, is a close-up of White playing guitar with a harmonica and sunglasses. For many, Tony Joe White, the author of such classics as “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” is as much an icon as Dylan. Regardless of the label (swamp rock, country rock, funk, blues) White’s music is distinctive and easily identifiable with his Louisiana heritage. The home page of his website features a foggy swamp with cypress trees and Spanish moss.
Fifty-five miles north of my hometown in northeast Louisiana lies the town of Oak Grove. I have two memories of Oak Grove: great high school football teams and Tony Joe White. As a junior in high school when “Polk Salad Annie” became a hit, I felt a certain degree of pride in the local-boy-makes-it-big aspect of White’s success. Not to mention that he puts out some great music.
Now at the age of sixty seven, Tony Joe White has released The Shine with a collection of ten songs. We certainly hope this is not a swan-song album. Lyrics such as, “I still hold on to the memories, no one can take that away,” from “Paintings on the Mountain” and titles like “A Place to Watch the Sun Go Down” might suggest such. Perhaps this moody swamp-southern soul music delivered with an often whispery texture is simply a reflective statement from a man with over fifty years experience in the music business.
In track four, “Tell Me Why”, he says, “Hope is hard to come by…” and “it takes courage to dust off your dreams.” Then in “All,” he sings the blues about love from the past and a girl who is most definitely not one who would “make the alligators look tame.” “Strange Night” is an upbeat tune just in time to bring the mood back up from the depths of self reflection.
In “Roll Train Roll” White tells the iron horse, “I don’t care where you’re going, I just need the ride” and he escapes to the safety and comfort of his refuge to watch the sun go down. White may never write another iconic song like “Rainy Night in Georgia” and if he doesn’t that’s okay. He’s assured his place in music history (Elvis and Tom Jones covered his songs) and The Shine serves as a capstone for his legacy — and it also lets us know that he’s got a lot more to give. Who else is writing songs about parched peanuts and blue jean jumpers?
Would I buy The Shine by a Louisiana legend? Yes, and “carry it home in a tote sack” with some polk salad.