Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Shelby Lynne are among the “girls” that swamp rock legend Tony Joe White has enlisted for his new album, appropriately tagged The Heroines.
The genesis of the album, due in September, was White’s long-running desire to record a set of songs “both with people I admire and people who have recorded my songs through the years,” he says. The set also includes White’s duets with his daughter Michelle and Jessi Colter.
White recorded the songs with just his voice, guitar, bass and drums at an old sixteen-track studio built into his home. His son integrated ProTools into the system, allowing White to send the tunes to the singers to add their voices. “It’s a good system we got working,” he says. “We’ve blended simplicity and something from the Enterprise.”
Harris came by White’s Tennessee studio to add her vocal to “Wild Wolf Calling Me.” “First time Emmy sang her vocal, I knew that was it,” he says. “She said, ‘I can do better and sang it four or five more times. I played her the original and she was surprised. She said, ‘That’s the one.’ You know magic when you hear it.”
Even in the vocal presence of the women, White says the songs retain the muddy sound that has been his trademark for more than three decades, most notably on the 1969 Top Ten hit “Polk Salad Annie.” “That sound is always there, I can’t get away from it,” he says. “We get the swampy tracks doing their thing behind these nice sweet voices . . . well, actually, Lucinda gets down there singing as raw and funky as I do on ‘Closing In on the Fire.’ She’s from Louisiana too.”
After a European tour, White is planning to start making calls for The Heroines’ companion piece: The Heroes. “This new record is just the first part,” he says. He’s already put together a list of potential heroes including Hank Williams Jr., Joe Cocker, French rock star Johnny Hallyday, country singer John Anderson and Michael McDonald. “I got several people in mind,” he says. “And they all seem ready to do it.”