Liner Note Author: Ben Edmonds.
Recording information: Ardent Recording Studio, Memphis, TN (12/01/1970-12/12/1970); Muscle Shoals Sound, Muscle Shoals (12/01/1970-12/12/1970); Quadrafonic Studios, Nashville (12/01/1970-12/12/1970); Sounds of Memphis Studio, Memphis TN (12/01/1970-12/12/1970).
When the definitive swamp rocker Tony Joe White signed with Warner Bros. in 1971, it sure seemed like a good idea -- while White seemed like an anomaly at Nashville's Monument Records, WB was a label with a reputation for nurturing creative mavericks with a taste for stylistic crossbreeding, and with his soulful, organic fusion of rock, blues, and country sounds, White was as individual as they came in the late '60s and early '70s. From a creative standpoint, Tony Joe White had a fruitful relationship with Warner Bros., as he cut three fine albums for the label, but commercially, things were not so rosy, as none of his WB releases fared well on the charts, and they soon fell out of print. The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings is a two-disc set that includes White's three WB albums in full -- 1971's Tony Joe White, 1972's The Train I'm On, and 1973's Homemade Ice Cream -- along with six tunes that only appeared on singles. Tony Joe White found White paired up in the studio with Peter Asher, who at the time had produced a handful of hits for James Taylor and would later work extensively with Linda Ronstadt, and if it seems like a curious match, the album was the hardest rocking set in White's WB repertoire; White's band (reinforced on several cuts by the Memphis Horns) cuts a solid and soulful groove, and "They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas," "A Night in the Life of a Swamp Fox," and "Black Panther Swamps" all capture him in tough, funky form, and "Copper Kettle" and "The Daddy" show he could also deliver with more contemplative material. With Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd at the controls and most of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section backing him up, The Train I'm On feels looser and more laid-back than Tony Joe White, with an easygoing, Sunday afternoon feel permeating these sessions; even rockers like "Even Trolls Love Rock and Roll" and "300 Pounds of Hongry" have a greasy vibe that puts the focus on the roll, not the rock, and the closer, "The Gospel Singer," sounds as richly Southern as anything White ever released. And Homemade Ice Cream is the most casual-sounding LP featured here, with White co-producing with Tom Dowd and Norbert Putnam and David Briggs anchoring the studio band. Some of the tracks sound more like demos than polished final tracks, though that's also part of their appeal; there's plenty of late-night soul in these performances, and they're intimate in a way the funky swamp fox couldn't always manage in the studio. With excellent liner notes from Ben Edmonds, this is a superb overview of an underappreciated period in the career of an often underrated artist, and anyone interested in Tony Joe White would do well to pick this up. ~ Mark Deming