june 2008

coverDeep Cuts
Tony Joe White
Swamp Records

Man, there are some bad doings down in Swampville, if Tony Joe White is to be believed. And why wouldn’t anyone believe TJW, who knows whereof he speaks when it comes to swamps? Approaching Deep Cuts, one’s attention is drawn to the cover and liner photos, all of which date from White’s hit making years in the ‘70s, when this strikingly handsome dude sported a thick, curly mane of black hair and Elvis-style muttonchop sideburns. Then you take a look at the tune stack and recognize six of the 10 tracks (a throwback to the dawn of the CD age, when most discs had only 10 tracks, perhaps?) are from the artist’s late ‘60s-early ‘70s songbook, and three of those were on his debut album. Four of the songs are instrumentals, to boot, including “Run With the Bulls,” a decidedly (or ironically) laid-back number that finds White offering up a Spanish flavored Ennio Morricone thang on the trebly top strings of his Tele. With Jody White producing, TJW is surrounded by hip-hop beats, tape loops, doom-laden, “Eleanor Rigby”-style string sections, the most artful use of the wah-wah pedal since Jimi Hendrix and a sustained, hypnotic, malevolent atmosphere throughout. The rub is in the story songs, and in the grizzled rumble that is White’s voice today, which achieves a certain seductive quality in its wizened state. “Roosevelt & Ira Lee,” never a happy-go-lucky character study anyway, now finds White crunching through in a conspiratorial whisper, making gigging for “a mess of bullfrog” sound like a terrorist attack. “Willie & Laura Mae Jones” is no longer the Dusty Springfield version with ebullient Memphis horns but a bittersweet recollection of a more abundant earth set to a persistent, electronic howl and TJW’s sinewy guitar lines. This is likely as close to art music as White cares to venture, with all the weirdness swirling about across the sonic spectrum, purposely dense and unsettling, an ideal backdrop for skullduggery. New and old, the songs are more suited for reflective moments when a listener can turn off the mind and float downstream, absorbed in the sunset mood, perhaps puzzling over the import of it all but appreciating, even luxuriating in, a veteran artist’s reconsideration of some of his best work and his own persona to boot. Maybe, finally, the gator got his Granny. Chomp, chomp.—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024