Wetlands is a bare bones approach to Louisiana music, reminiscent of the kind of music a person might hear if stumbling into a club in any small, remote town. That’s a place where musicians who want to play are obliged to use the house equipment. The owner, wary of another expensive visit from the electrician to re-tape fried wiring, is sometimes the tyrant who makes the house rules. And this is the kind of place where the owner’s wife or cousin uses a ballpoint pen to make the hand-lettered menus. Maybe there’s even a bottle of homemade chili water on the bar to douse the grinds. The chairs probably don’t match. This isn’t music for any but the most accidental sort of tourists, but more like music that residents play to entertain each other, possessing a simple honesty even when playing the house favorites.
So imagine your car broke down while you were making your way through an unfamiliar landscape where your most frequent question is, “What do people do to survive here?” You might appreciate this musical effort a lot more in those circumstances.
There are not a lot of stagey flash guitar pyrotechnics, but there’s some decent playing, and Benoit’s smoky voice can be both soulful and expressive. This is a basic three- (sometimes four-) piece band playing their small-band sound through the different styles of blues Louisiana has made famous. Zydeco is shown through Boozoo Chavis’s “Dog Hill”, which has a complex and dazzling drum lead-in that echoes the brilliant percussive style of the early Meters drummer. This is just the song, now, without the accordian player, and there’s no piano player for Professor Longhair’s “Her Mind Is Gone”. There’s also the New Orleans party classic “I Got Loaded”, which became a local hit for Lil Bob and the Lollipops but without the sing-along Mardi Gras revelers.
A Cajun man himself, raised in a small town in Louisiana, Benoit has every right to interpret the music that made his environment. That he manages to give it the real small-fry flavor shows he’s spent many an honest day in the environments where the popularity for this music first began simmering. This won’t be the record to make him famous, though.
In real performance onstage, Tab Benoit has a reputation for putting on a high-energy show that can knock a bottle of beer straight out of your hand. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying to hear him playing live, because live shows are where most good blues is to be found these days.