Night Train to Nashville captures a unique night in Tab Benoit’s career. Prior to receiving both Best Contemporary Male Performer of 2006 and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year at the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards in Memphis, TN, Benoit played two guest-filled nights in Nashville. Both awards were well-deserved, as Benoit has spent his career not only playing smoking hot blues guitar on albums like Fever for the Bayou and Power of the Pontchartrain, but by also doing so with his Louisiana heritage never far from reach.
Backed by Louisiana’s Leroux, Benoit takes the same approach here, although his lineup of guests gives many of these songs a new feel. The recording starts off with “Night Train”, as do many of Benoit’s shows, showcasing one of his signature riffs (later in the set, he revisits it in slightly revised form on “Muddy Bottom Blues”, but it’s such a good rhythm, it’s hard to fault Benoit for favoring it). From there, it’s a stroll through highlights from Benoit’s catalog, aided by guests like Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson (“Too Sweet for Me”, “Stackolina”), Jim Lauderdale (“Moon Coming Over the Hill”), Wet Willie vocalist/harpist Jimmy Hall (“Rendezvous with the Blues”, “New Orleans Ladies”, and “Muddy Bottom Blues”), harpist/accordionist Johnny Sansone (“Fever for the Bayou”), and fiddler/washboard player Waylon Thibodeaux (“Stackolina”)
It all makes for a rousing set, which is no surprise coming from Benoit. Unlike a lot of blues guitarists who can tear up the fretboard, he brings plenty of personality and regional flavor to his playing. Plus, with guests like these, the blues quotient can only be pretty high. And he lays back when the song or guest calls for it, as evidenced by the way he gives “Fever for the Bayou” over to Sansone, letting it showcase the harmonica instead of the guitar. Jim Lauderdale takes an assertive turn through the slow-burn shuffle of “Moon Coming Over the Hill”, while the presence of Wilson and Thibodeaux on “Stackolina” adds a ramshackle, off-the-cuff feel.
Overall, the performances caught on Night Train to Nashville possess a loose, light vibe, as if Benoit’s taking a victory lap instead of trying to prove himself. That’s certainly not a knock on Night Train to Nashville, which burns in all of the right ways. Not every show can be a tooth-and-claw grind, or else road warriors like Benoit would burn themselves out. Instead, this is the sound of Benoit and his friends/heroes having a lot of fun and playing a lot of good blues tunes in the process. It’s probably telling, though, that nine of Night Train‘s eleven tracks are Benoit compositions. No doubt, at this point, he’s perfectly comfortable with the way his career’s developed — and may even be ready for folks to realize he’s more than a scorching guitarist.