Tab Benoit: The Sea Saint Sessions

[9 September 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

Dedicated to the memory of his brother, Chad Atwell, Tab Benoit went about this album in a rather play by the seat of one’s pants nature. “This record is a lot like my live shows in that it’s not just me making something happen out of nothing. It becomes me just guiding what’s already happening in the moment,” he says in the press bio. Recorded quickly at the Big Easy Recording Studio in New Orleans, aka, the Sea Saint Studios, this record features Benoit along with bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Darryl White. And for most of the album, Benoit is able to sail along effortlessly.

Starting with the raunchy Jimmie Vaughan sounding “Baby Blue”, Benoit doesn’t struggle with the lyrics as his guitar work is a bit of seventies funk mixed with just enough solo work to keep it flowing. Benoit is one of the better if unknown blues guitarists around and he demonstrates this on the solos, which toe the line between being clean and crisp and moving into a sloppy jam band format. The tune also translates perfectly the idea of what Benoit is trying to accomplish—get the idea, put it to tape, question later. Fans of Robert Cray or even John Hiatt would dig this tune. “Boat Launch Baby” has a Cajun flavor to it but there are not enough drums and nary an accordion heard. Benoit relies on his guitar to weave that distinct magic, which he does with some success. The Bo Diddley-like playing in some spots is a definite asset.

“Sufferin’ Mind”, written by Eddie Jones, is the standard blues ballad that rarely grows stale. Benoit doesn’t stretch for the notes, making them work instead with the goods that he brings to the B.B. King-like track. Brian Stoltz lends his vocals and guitar on “Hustlin’ Down in New Orleans”, a blues based amble that recalls Taj Mahal’s version of “Corrina” with the Rolling Stones. “Hustlin’” not only comes at the perfect time, the tune breathes new life into the album. Stoltz’s playing is also worth noting, a tad different than Benoit’s but no less soulful. There is a Texas blues swing to “Solid Simple Thing”, another Benoit song that Stevie Ray Vaughan could do at the drop of his trademark hat.

Monk Boudreaux performs “Monk’s Blues” but Benoit complements the slow soulful blues track gracefully. “I didn’t even see it coming, maybe I could’ve tried”, he sings in a Van Morrison-ish style. It’s also, though, the first time where Benoit’s playing doesn’t sparkle as it should, sounding a bit like he’s going through the motions just a bit. Atoning for this slight lull, however, is “Making the Bend”. On this country-tinged track, Benoit pairs up with George Porter on bass and guitar. When trading vocals and guitar licks, the tandem oozes confidence as they talk about having “nothing but the blues”. It’s the type of tune Clapton and King should’ve done dozens of time before.

“Howlin’ for My Darling” is a cover of the Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf classic, but Benoit takes this blues tune up in terms of pace and tempo. It doesn’t quite come off splendidly, despite some mean guitar solo work throughout. The rhythm section plays an important role here, making it resemble George Thorogood and the Destroyers in certain fleeting moments. After “Darkness”, a slow dance soul song that recalls Otis Redding, Benoit pulls out all the stops for the finale. “Plareen Man” is a Cyril Neville song, so who better to perform it than the songwriter. Neville adds percussion as well while Boudreaux plays tambourine. This has the Cajun mix of blues, funk, folk, and pop that has bar band sound written all over it. It’s a very fine finish.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/benoittab-seasaint/