BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
It’s the nature of the music biz that any artist that boasts only a handful of hits generally has a hard time sustaining a career for any more than a year or two, much less for four decades. So credit Tony Joe White for doing the unimaginable, maximizing the success he scored early on with songs like Polk Salad Annie, Rainy Night in Georgia and Steamy Windows (the latter two written for Brook Benton and Tina Turner, respectively), and using them to spur a trajectory that’s still going strong.
Not surprisingly then, “Hoodoo” maintains that same swampy m.o. through a series of dark, dense ruminations that find him in a solid groove. White balances his approach midway between a snaking boogie and tangled blues, with tracks like The Gift, Who You Gonna Hoodoo Now and The Flood conveying a sinewy, stealth-like mystique. In truth, some of these songs don’t always gain a lot of traction, although the facile instrumentation and White’s gritty vocals manage to mesmerize nevertheless. And for all the murky undercurrent, the agile arrangements and mood manipulation still manage to leave a lingering imprint.
Ultimately, it’s a credit to White’s ability to stay the course that 45 years after first making his mark he hasn’t abandoned his approach or conceded anything to more of a modern motif. His music still retains its roots in the Louisiana bayou, and the fact that “Hoodoo” finds him as devoted to his muse now as he was when he was tagged “The Swamp Fox” back in the day, demonstrates a decided singularity of purpose. From the heads down deliberation of Alligator, Mississippi to the teasing double entendre of Sweet Tooth, White’s music captures a particular time and place when pop and pretense weren’t necessarily intertwined.
As always, Tony Joe remains the real deal.
DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Tooth,” “The Gift,” “The Flood”