It's been just over four decades since Tony Joe White eased into the spotlight with Polk Salad Annie, a folk/blues song that established White as a swampy, gritty and slightly more dangerous version of Elvis Presley. At the same time, there was a hint of novelty in Polk Salad Annie ("Gators got your granny, chomp, chomp chomp...") that could have painted White in a corner, but he proved more versatile and durable than his big hit. And although he hasn't had a song nearly as big as Annie (or Rainy Night in Georgia, his composition popularized by Brook Benton in 1970) in the subsequent 41 years, White has sustained a moderately successful recording and touring career, coming back in the '80s by producing and writing for Tina Turner's "Foreign Affair" and rising again in the new millennium, starting with 2000's excellent "One Hot July," followed by 2001's critically acclaimed "The Beginning," his first new U.S. albums in nearly 20 years.
On "The Shine," White's 19th studio album in his lengthy catalog, the 67-year-old singer/songwriter tends to concentrate on the right side of that slash. White's sensual mumble was more ominous in his younger days; his voice has the scuffed and sometimes thin patina of a weary roadhouse country/blues singer. The quality that carries "The Shine" is White's ace-in-the-hole from the very start; his compelling musical and lyrical songcraft.
"The Shine" is a relatively subdued affair, and those quieter passages (Paintings on the Mountain, Something to Soften the Blow) betray White's vocal vulnerabilities, but he fares better when he gets bluesier and slinkier (Ain't Doing Nobody No Good, Roll Train Roll). But as White so aptly notes in Tell Me Why, "It's all about the song, keepin' it simple/Gotta have passion, gotta have soul," and those are qualities that he has exhibited for the duration of his 40-plus year career, qualities that are in full evidence on "The Shine." Even if White's voice isn't quite what it was in his prime, his words still possess enough power and soul to win the day.