Singer-songwriter Tony Joe White, a.k.a. "The Swamp Fox," was beloved for his evocative southern soul tunes including "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Polk Salad Annie," and "Willie and Laura Mae Jones." The Louisiana-born artist released sixteen studio albums in his lifetime between 1968's Black and White on Monument and 2018's Bad Mouthin' on Yep Roc. On May 7, that esteemed group will grow by one title when Easy Eye Sound releases Smoke from the Chimney, a nine-song LP of previously unreleased White compositions.
White took advantage of home recording in his later years, revisiting old songs and introducing new ones armed just with his voice and guitar. Following his death in October 2018 at the age of 75, his son Jody began the process of transferring the multitrack home recordings to digital audio. Within a year, he'd compiled the nine songs that comprise Smoke from the Chimney.
To complete the skeletal demos, White enlisted Easy Eye Sound founder and one-half of The Black Keys, producer Dan Auerbach. The multiple Grammy Award winner had long hoped to collaborate with White, but sessions never panned out. In the press release for Smoke from the Chimney, Jody White explains: "For one reason or another, my Dad would never just want to go into a studio and write with somebody, or go work with somebody. He liked to do it at his place, and his way, and it turned out how it turned out, you know what I mean? So, this album really all worked out perfectly. He was making these tracks for Dan all along, but we just didn't know it."
Auerbach concurs: "Jody and I had been talking about this record for so long, and it didn't happen for a reason. It's because it wasn't supposed to happen. I was in a nervous cast of characters until the last few years, and if you'd given it to me any earlier, it wouldn't have been right. I felt like all these people on the record were the right people and they laid in there behind Tony Joe. It felt really magical when we were making it happen."
Easy Eye Sound records often tap Nashville's musical royalty to conjure sounds that are very much of the present while tipping their hats at soul classics of the past. This album was no exception. To flesh out White's songs ranging from blues to ballads, Auerbach recruited keyboardist Bobby Wood of The Memphis Boys, Nashville pedal steel titan Paul Franklin, and Grammy-winning fiddler Stuart Duncan, as well as younger players such as guitar wunderkind Marcus King.
"I feel like [the new album is] validation that Tony Joe was one of the greatest of all time," Jody White states. "That he could make something so potent, even so late in life, is something that not many people can do. I think it's going to make people who loved him already love him even more." Smoke from the Chimney arrives May 7 from Easy Eye Sound on CD, LP, and digital platforms.
Tony Joe White, Smoke from the Chimney (Easy Eye Sound, 2021) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Smoke from the Chimney
- Boot Money
- Del Rio, You're Making Me Cry
- Listen to Your Song
- Over You
- Scary Stories
- Bubba Jones
- Someone Is Crying
Sounds like an interesting project, but that artwork, though.