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Tony Joe White - Homemade Ice Cream

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Artist: Tony Joe White

Album: Homemade Ice Cream

Label: DBK Works

Review date: Jul. 21, 2005

In 1973, the year singer-songwriter and guitarist Tony Joe White recorded his third solo album, country music was on the cusp of moving permanently into the mainstream of American pop music. Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors came out the same year, the duet of George Jones and Tammy Wynette was making headway on the charts and Willie Nelson was just a few years away from becoming the public face of the genre. Homemade Ice Cream never made the splash any of the above did, partly because White’s sound is too modest, and partly because it doesn’t try to straighten out the tangled roots of country music, roots that feed on mountain music, early American folk, jazz and early R’n’B.

In these 11 originals, the born-and-bred Louisiana native shows he's comfortable with both the White southern gospel his musical family probably played and the blues of Jimmy Reed and Lightnin’ Hopkins, two of his first inspirations. White uses a quartet of musicians - guitarist Reggie Young, organist David Briggs, bassist Norbert Putnam and drummer Kenny Malone – that bring out the soulful strut and stomping blues of these songs. On “No News is Good News,” White’s funked-up wah riffing, backed by Briggs’ chunky organ, is reminiscent of another swamp-funk unit from the Louisiana, the Meters. “Backwoods Preacher Man” celebrates a gospel country preacher with greasy slide guitar and a heavy low-end.

On such pieces, White sounds as much like a soul singer as a good ol’ country boy, never climbing out of a husky bass-baritone range. With no adjusting, the dusky grind of “Did Somebody Make a Fool Out of You” could be covered by such deep-throated soul masters as Solomon Burke and Isaac Hayes. He laces his velvety shudders on “Taking the Midnite Train” with powerful sensual ambiguity, as much sexual as it is sentimental.

In other places, White reflects other influences from Country’s melting pot. “Ol’ Mother Earth” and “California On My Mind” float on the easy breeze of folk-rock. “For Ol’ Times Sake” is just a string section and choir away from pure Nashville pop.

And of course, nostalgia, one of Country’s favorite moods, crops up repeatedly. The instrumental title track, with the bleary buzz of White’s harmonica, tugs the listener backwards to an idyllic childhood sweetness. The boogie of “Saturday Nite in Oak Grove, Louisiana” reminiscences about "going to town and circling the Dairy Queen to see who is hanging out" and pick-up trucks with fiberglass mufflers.

“Lazy,” which celebrates fishing and the liberation it bestows, brings the album full circle. The song rocks dreamily, a porch-swing blues White could most likely write in his sleep. Intentionally or not, White sums up Country music’s complicated, mongrel origins in just a few simple songs.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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