Retrospect: The Best of Joe South
At one point in the seventies, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing a song Joe South wrote. Liz Anderson had a monster country hit with “Rose Garden,” Deep Purple first came onto the charts with “Hush,” and Brook Benton had a soul smash with “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” While this may’ve been financially rewarding for South, it wasn’t exactly fulfilling his musical ambitions. Musical frustration and personal problems caused South to disappear from the music scene in 1976, and all his records have thus fallen out of print.
However, South has returned to the music business after a 1994 concert in London, and Koch Records (rapidly threatening Razor & Tie’s spot as the cherry country reissue label) has released Retrospective: The Best of Joe South . The 16-song overview is as exhaustive a look at South’s work as one can get, and the only album available to the general consumer.
Like all retrospectives of songwriters (such as Tony Joe White or Dan Penn) whose tunes were made famous by other people, this collection is pretty much geared towards the hard-core musical fanatic. However, South has a great set of pipes, and the records enjoyed some phenomenal production, particularly for mid-seventies country. He particularly shines on “Down in the Boondocks” (the breakthrough hit for country crooner Billy Joe Royal) and the Dylanesque “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”
The strings do get a little thick on the otherwise excellent “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” but South’s special turn of lyrical phrase on this and all his songs makes up for any shortcomings. Plus, he’s a pretty mean guitar picker, befitting a former Nashville session man. The album also includes South’s first release, the otherwise forgettable novelty tune “The Purple People Eater Meats the Witch Doctor.” Still, this is a more or less a historical document, and a pretty good one at that. Retrospective is a great place to begin looking into South’s unfortunately near-forgotten contributions to rock ‘n’ roll.
Koch International, 2 Tri-Harbor Court, Port Washington, NY 11050; http://www.kochentertainment.com