Tab Benoit and Jimmy Thackery, two long time blues musicians, joined forces in 2002 for an album entitled Whiskey Store. The record garnered praise in blues circles and, as a result, the duo toured in support of the album. Fortunately for those unable to attend the shows, a couple of them were recorded, including a stop in that hotbed of blues music, Unity, Maine. The show, which is now roughly a year old, showcases a group whose sum is far greater than any of its very capable parts. But too often they take the long low road with the crisp and tight high road might be a better option. “The whiskey store is now open”, someone says to the crowd at the Unity Centre for Performing Arts. But the opening intro, entitled “Freddy’s Combo”, is along the lines of B.B. King’s supporting cast. It’s pretty much straightforward, but there is basically next to nothing special about the opening couple of minutes. Benoit and Thackery trade licks off each other and it starts to gain a bit of momentum, but it’s eight minutes of music that a lot of generic blues bands worth their chops could pull off. The lone exception is Jimmy Carpenter’s saxophone.
“I Got Loaded” works much better thanks to playing to Thackery’s and Benoit’s strengths, namely the swinging, groove-riddle blues that bring to mind George Thorogood on Prozac. Carpenter again shines on the bridge as Carl Dufrene’s bass complements it nicely. Then it’s time for the guitars to come to the fore, and they do, bringing to mind a bit of John Hiatt and a lot of Robert Cray. Benoit asks Thackery to take over on lead guitar and he does a very solid job of it. The one drawback, though, is they tend to run with a good thing for far too long. This is a perfect example, as they seem to run out of gas at around six minutes but keep going. A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” works as they take things down into an infectious barroom blues ditty. “I just really wanna see if it’s that really expensive kind”, the line goes as they drive headlong into one solo after another. The rhythm to it is mindful of “Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35”, minus the reference to getting stoned.
When the “boogie” quotient is raised, this is when the duo oozes talent. The Benoit-penned “Bone Pickin’” changes gears slightly during the verses but moves back into full throttle with a mix of guitars, horns, bass, and everything else that feels right. But from there they go back into the safe and secure “band-based” blues of “Away, Way Too Long”. It flows but has little to no real life or momentum going for it. The song, written by Colin Linden (O Brother Where Art Thou?, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings), straddles along without making much of a connection with the audience—or its performers, for that matter. And yet again the song is in cruise control, going another minute or two without much direction or energy. Another cover, this time Percy Mayfield’s “Strange Things Happen”, is more Carpenter and less Benoit or Thackery’s riffs or chords. They do tend to get some licks off halfway through, but too little and a bit too late.
“If we give you the boogie, can you handle it?” they ask prior to the toe-tapping highlight that is, well, “Bayou Boogie”. Simplistic but extremely catchy, this Benoit tune sounds like the perfect panacea for what has thus far been an average to very good album. Ten minutes of boogie might be too much for some, but they keep things swimming along throughout it all. It’s by far “the song” on the album, giving the stars a chance to showcase all they got. Only during the high-hat portion three-quarters of the way in do they ease up, but offer up a load of riffola. The heartfelt slow dance that is Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” has a lovely sway that builds over an extended period of time. This is Carpenter’s baby early on and throughout most of the ‘60s soul nugget. Guitars are given free reign, but the sax seems to suit the song to a tee. Another 10-minute track follows, but by then the pair seems to have recaptured that special spark.
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