Legacy: The Best of
By Al Kaufman
Tab Benoit is old school. In the world of the blues he may still be considered a newcomer, but there is a reason he won the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award at the 2012 Blues Music Awards. Benoit plays fat and juicy licks, much like the bluesman for whom his award was named, yet his guitar playing always remains within the confines of the song. He feels no need to show off and say, “Look at me! Look at me!” He keeps the focus on the blues. And, of course, it helps that his voice is as rich and resonant as that of B.B. King as well, with just a hint of Van Morrison sweetness thrown in for good measure. Simply put, the man can play.
While Benoit has been recording for over 20 years, most of this Best of focuses on his last ten years. While the sole 20th century release, a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” is ultimately forgettable and unnecessary, “Medicine,” the title cut from 2012 Blues Music Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, is pure swampy goodness. Co-written with Anders Osborne, who also plays guitar, the song is the epitome of Benoit. It is raw, pure and sweaty. What is amazing is that the song is more literal than expected. As explained in John Swenson’s insightful liner notes, Osborne forgot to bring his medication to Benoit’s fishing camp where the two were going to write some songs. They needed to go 15 miles to the nearest boat launch so that Anders could get his medication. Benoit started growling out, “Bring me my medicine,” and a song was born.
But Benoit shows off other sides as well. He is content to play the role of (fabulous) session musician to Cyril Neville’s vocals on “The Blues Is Here to Stay,” (off of Fever for the Bayou). And she shows a country side on “Comin’ On Strong,” a Billy Joe Shaver song sung by Shaver and featuring Waylon Thibodeaux on fiddle. The song is off the country influenced album, Brother to the Blues, which was ironically Benoit’s first Grammy nomination in the traditional blues category.
But this is mostly about the blues, from the opening licks of “Shelter Me” to the barn burning ten-minute live “Bayou Boogie” (also featuring Jimmy Thackery on guitar), Benoit’s fingers remain aflame.
Like most Louisiana musicians, Benoit is also a staunch environmentalist. However, his work with Voice of the Wetlands actually predates Hurricane Katrina. His Voice of the Wetlands festival in his hometown of Houma (about an hour southwest of New Orleans) packs them in. An LSU grad, Benoit is a Cajun through and through. He is a nice guy and an even better musician, a rare combination these days.
Tab Benoit plays Smith’s Olde Bar on Wednesday, July 4th.