More than a decade ago my older brother dragged me out to see some Texas blueswoman I had never heard of. It was the first and only time I ever saw Marcia Ball, though I would go see her again in a second. The night was a long mix of dancing, bopping, and reverence. But then, back at my brother’s house I listened to Marcia Ball’s CDs and the songs of lots of other Texas blueswomen and found myself definitively unimpressed. How could a recent night of live blues fall so flat coming from the studio? With my first listen to Tab Benoit’s recent album, my brother’s CDs immediately came to mind. He’d love this, I don’t. But listening to These Blues are All Mine over and over allowed me to visualize the blistering fun of a Tab Benoit show. I promptly e-mailed my brother and told him to put Benoit’s San Francisco club appearance in big letters red letters on his calendar.
Benoit hails from Southern Louisiana and his music blends straight ahead rock and roll and contemporary rhythm and blues with unadulterated Cajun spices. The sultry and often sweltering blues come served with healthy sides of Benoit’s blistering guitar chops. These sides remind me distinctly of Albert Collins, while the main course takes me back to my brother’s Texas blues collection. I think these means that the meat takes a backseat to the other piles overflowing the plate. When Benoit steps up to solo, the rest of the music just fades out—then it’s just all Benoit. But his guitar works speaks even outside of the solos. He fills in the nooks and crannies of all his songs with licks so good that you think he just hit you with a two-and-a-half second solo. His guitar work along with the rest of his rhythm section behind his solos pushes all his songs straight up to a pitch sometimes like a race car on a banked turn, sometimes like and 18-wheeler at 95 miles per hour.
Benoit offers up a number of covers on These Blues are All Mine—Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya” and Willie Dixon’s “Twenty Nine Ways (To My Baby’s Door)” particularly stand out. William’s tune gets replayed as a true swamp boogie kept afloat by Benoit’s adroit swamp chops and Dixon’s cheatin’-hidin’-under-the-bed blues get’s stripped of anything Chicago and replaced with swinging bridges and fuzzy guitar chords. Throughout the entire effort, Benoit’s music remains consistent. There are no low points. I don’t know that I would run out now and buy one of Benoit’s other albums, but I would drop everything to get to one of his shows—and I’m sure that I’d end up with one of those releases in my hands at the end of the night.
// Notes from the Road
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