JOE SOUTH Instrospect & Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home? (Raven)

Joe South was both a session and songwriting veteran by the time he released his debut solo album, “Introspect”, in 1968, having played on “The Sound Of Silence” and “Blonde On Blonde” and written Deep Purple’s US hit “Hush”. His own material shows him also to be capable of studio wizardry to rival Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, fashioning an intoxicating hybrid of Dylan-influenced rock, soul, country, pop and experimental electronics. If at first these songs sound rather too samey, the suspicion is soon replaced with the realisation that they all share South’s chunky consistency.

Singing with a gruff sensitivity that explains why Elvis was drawn to cover his work, “Mirror Of Your Mind” is a complex multi-part piece, phased, distorted and warped, and “Redneck” satirises Southern stereotypes five years ahead of Randy Newman. The oft-covered “Games People Play” is “Introspect”’s big single, at least as far as British ears are concerned, employing an electric sitar at the far end of the instrument’s fashion curve and softening its barbed lyrics with Southern gentility.

Sometimes “Introspect” acknowledges its influences a little too openly: “These Are Not My People” carries more than a flavour of “Like A Rolling Stone” in its finger-wagging castigation of social scenesters, and “Birds Of A Feather” is lyrically redolent of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. Nevertheless, the glorious seven minute closer “Gabriel” documents South’s genius in full, unfettered flow: coolly namechecking his hometown, the Reverend summons his flock to an irrepressibly funky showdown on the corner of 14th and Beale.

The following year’s “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home?” is substantially more of the same, albeit slightly weakened by the way his songwriting settles for uneasy sentimentality rather more often. There’s more gospel fervour on “Shelter” and ticking stereo trickery during “Clock Up On The Wall”. The way the bass intro to “What Makes Lovers Hurt One Another?” skilfully avoids settling where the ear expects catches me out every time, as does the way it leads immediately into “Before It’s Too Late”, less a song than a scripted jam session coda, an amiable, Leon Russell-esque big band shambles. It all comes together on “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”: the empathy (and how much of that is there in rock?), the glorious melodic sensibility, the panoramic arrangement coaxed from a pocket-sized group. Heck, he even bangs on about karma ahead of John Lennon. Decades before Bono’s nightly phone call to the White House from the Zoo TV stage, “A Million Miles Away” records, over a channel panning marching band soup, South’s attempts to get a message of appreciation to President Nixon from “the hip community of Atlanta”, thanking him for his efforts in attempting to end the Vietnam war. The title track closes the album, a string-soaked hymn to lost childhood innocence and his development-encroached hometown. As a bonus, this CD reissue also offers the track “Hole In Your Soul”, originally found on a cobbled-together follow-up to the swiftly deleted “Introspect”. Drenched in Spectoresque reverb and more electric sitar, it’s another ragged and funky jam, well worth appending to the main albums.

If Joe South is recognised more as a songwriter than a recording artist these days, Raven’s thoughtfully annotated 2-for-1 reissue of his first two albums deserves to redress that perception. Over 35 years after the fact, his music sounds like the Carpenters on psychedelics and soul food, ripe for reappraisal.