Hot and Cool (08/11/2000)
Tony Joe White, One Hot July (Hip-O 2000) - Here's an album that really deserves to find a following. First released in Europe, One Hot July now finds a home in the states. Get ready for One Hot July, in which Tony Joe White's soulful vocals match against his Delta background to provide a fresh slice of the blues.
Put it this way: if you liked Some Change by Boz Skaggs, then you'll flip for One Hot July, in which White introduces elements of J.J. Cale on the bouncy "I Want My Fleetwood Back."
Tony Joe White, born in Louisiana in 1943, is best known for his hits, "Polk Salad Annie" and the bona fide classic "Rainy Night in Georgia." Tony is part Cherokee and was the youngest of seven children. The Swamp Fox, who hasn't released a new album since 1983, now works out of his home in Franklin, Tennessee.
One Hot July was recorded on four nights in a studio in rural Louisiana with Tony Joe on vocals, guitar, and harmonica, Eric Watkins on bass, Carson Whitsett on keyboards, Marc Cohen on drums, and Luis Conte on percussion. One Hot July was produced by Tony Joe and Roger Davies, the manager of Tina Turner. (Tony Joe wrote and played on Tina's 1989 multi-platinum Foreign Affair album.) The album was mixed by Chris Lord-Alge at Image Recording in Los Angeles.
Tony Joe went back to his roots to record One Hot July. Says the artist, "We recorded in an old wooden house with these cube microphones hanging down and an old B-3 organ. I could actually reach over from where I was making a take and open the door and hear gators bellowing and frogs croaking. I mean, I wasn't just singing about a swamp anymore, I was singing in a swamp."
Listen to the lead-off track, "Crack My Window, Baby," and tell me if you can't hear the Oklahoma guitar work of J.J. Cale, as emphasized by the well-separated recording, which allows each instrument and voice to hold its own space. And while the title track has a melancholy element, "Salina" (about the late Tejano singer) is a celebratory piece with a great guitar bridge. Also listen for the gorgeously-orchestrated "Outro" (which unfortunately lasts only 41 seconds).
One Hot July also brings to mind Willie Deville, whose terrific Backstreets of Desire was originally released in France (like One Hot July), before being picked up for United States distribution. Strangely, some of the best roots material is first appreciated on the Continent. You may have to look for One Hot July, but the effort will be rewarding.
Neil Young, Silver & Gold (Reprise 2000) - Venerable recording artist Neil Young returns with the acoustic-oriented Silver & Gold. Tracks like "Distant Camera" and "Buffalo Springfield Again" are easily overlooked, yet have a simple elegance.
Neil Young needs (or should need) no introduction, as his recording career extends from the Buffalo Springfield through CSNY and his subsequent recordings with Crazy Horse.
Silver & Gold finds its origins in mid-1997, when Young returned from headlining the H.O.R.D.E. tour. Remembers Neil, "While I was on tour, I had written a couple of new songs, and I wanted to record them right away while my voice was still in shape from all the performing I'd done."
At the time, Neil was thinking of recording an oddity called "Acoustica." Explains the artist, "The album was obviously going to be all-acoustic, but using cheap little instruments, things you could buy at a World Music Store for $19.95, and then miking them really loud."
For better or worse, that project never came to fruition, as Neil found himself working with old bandmates, in part on a long-awaited Buffalo Springfield box set.
Recalls Neil, "I volunteered to come down to L.A. to play on it and, once I got there and was back in the studio with those guys, they sounded so good and it was so great to see them all again, that I just hung in there."
That project ultimately resulted in Looking Forward, the first CSNY release in more than a decade, and an album that would eventually contain four songs originally intended for Silver & Gold.
Says Neil, "Some people question the wisdom of letting those songs go. But I felt at the time that my album may have been suffering under its own weight and that by taking them out I could free up the whole thing. I listened again and with the new running order, it seemed like an entirely different album to me, raised to a new level."
Neil finally found himself laying down the track for Silver & Gold with Ben Keith on steel guitar, old friend Jim Keltner on drums, Spooner Oldham on pianos and organs, and the legendary Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass. Also helping out are long-time friends Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals.
Like his prior acoustic efforts, Harvest and Harvest Moon, Neil knows how to bring a song to front and center. Witness his vastly underrated 1993 Unplugged collection, in which the songs occupied center stage, as well as the Sleeps With Angels release, which also boasted great songwriting.
Neil says that Silver & Gold is a fully-realized album, with each song holding its own place. For example, Neil says he wrote "Red Sun" "on a really fresh day. My head was feeling good and I was really open. I kept hearing Emmylou Harris' voice on it and I finally ended up taking it to Tucson to Linda Ronstadt's house, where she and Emmylou were working on an album with Dolly Parton. They ended up singing on a lot of the songs in this album, but this one really got to me. The song's got a little bit of religion in it and Emmylou's voice, especially, is suited to that."
As to "Silver & Gold," Neil says, "This one says to me that relationships are more important than material things. You could take a look at me and say I was really full of it, because I have so many possessions, it's ridiculous. But it's dawning on me how useless most of them are."
And "Buffalo Springfield Again" "gives Stephen Stills and me a chance to play around with what we were doing back then and take it to another level. When he came up to the ranch to work on the box set, part of it was kind of depressing, because I think we both felt like it had all been cut short. We realized how much more there was for us to do."
Neil Young remains a singular artist. Always willing to look at the flame, any album by Neil Young is worth a listen. My main beef is the impossible-to-read typeface on the back cover. The tiny black print melds into the background, and is indecipherable.
Silver & Gold is not a bouncy, uplifting album. But the songs are well crafted, and played from the heart.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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