A fine posthumous tribute to White featuring the distinctive and unmistakable voice of the ‘Swamp Fox’.
‘Smoke From The Chimney’ is a posthumous release from Tony Joe White, who passed away in 2018, having left a legacy of songs in sparse guitar and vocal demo mode, from the last 15 years of his life. Producer Dan Auerbach had long had an aspiration to work with White, and now through son and manager Jody White this has come to fruition with nine tracks worked up by Auerbach to full productions.
White was blessed with an unmistakable and truly distinctive voice, and this shines through on these tracks, which include songs up there with the best from his long recording career. Hailing from Louisiana, he founded a genre all of his own–which could be described as swamp rock/swamp blues/swamp roots–with that deep voice taking the listener straight to the swamps of Louisiana, its larger than life characters, and their tales.
His songs found most commercial success recorded by other artists, most notably ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’, a major hit for Brook Benton, and recorded by many other artists including Boz Scaggs.
The title track which opens the album leans towards country soul, with prominent brass over a slow tempo arrangement featuring acoustic slide and electric guitars, and keys, with Latino guitar adding another accent to the opening bars, and the builds in the chorus. Whites’ vocals are smokey and soulful, conversational and whispered in part, drawing the listener in. It’s a powerful start to the album, as he sings “Smoke from the chimney/a little chill in the air/the old folks by the fire/in their rocking chairs/the cotton fields are empty/and the garden is gone/there’s smoke from the chimney/says winter’s comin’ home”.
‘Boot Money’ returns to the bluesier vibe of Whites most recent albums released before his death, ‘Hoodoo’ and ‘Rain Crow’, a mid-tempo number featuring his characteristic Stratocaster guitar and vocal ad-libs, over an insistent beat. The bluesy vibe continues on the acoustic guitar-led slow tempo ‘Scary Stories‘, which also features White on blues harp, an atmospheric and evocative track leaning towards Southern Gothic, as he sings of “a dark stormy night/and the rain beat on the tin roof”, the song building to a climax with electric and slide guitar.
A gentler side of Whites’ repertoire is demonstrated with ‘Over You’, a poignant and gentle ballad, featuring his extraordinary low register, very Cohen-esque, a story of a love affair going back to a first taste of love at a tender age, but doomed to a sad ending, and in manner of the best storytellers totally convincing, but purely fictional.
‘Bubba Jones‘ sees White return to storytelling, in powerful swamp blues style, as he recounts the tale of an epic battle between his subject and a record-sized bass hiding in the waters of the swamp.
Completing a comprehensive reflection of Whites’ varied career are a couple of rockers, ‘Listen to Your Song’ with a full band driving sound, while still in rock mode but with a softer touch ‘Someone is Crying’ has echoes of Dire Straits, doubtless reflecting the collaboration some years back between White and Mark Knofler.
Auerbachs’ picks to accompany White’s guitar and vocal recordings includes keyboardist Bobby Wood (Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett), Nashville pedal steel player Paul Franklin, and guitarist Marcus King.
A fine posthumous tribute to White and his varied career, its eclectic mix of styles held together by his distinctive vocals.