Recorded during a month in Louisiana and sounding it, Tab Benoit's sixth album is a swampy example of the best of that state's music. Rocking, bluesy, and filled with soul, guitarist/vocalist Benoit keeps his sound stripped down to just a three-piece, giving his voice and greasy guitar plenty of room to maneuver. From obscure Professor Longhair second-line tunes ("Her Mind Is Gone") to a cover from zydeco king Boozoo Chavis ("Dog Hill") to a version of Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" that makes it seem like a lost New Orleans classic, Benoit traverses a lot of territory over this hour of music. Like his influences, Benoit never overdoes his approach, preferring to keep the focus on his gritty voice, lean guitar, and stark accompaniment of his backing duo. This is music caught between rootsy rock, funk, R&B, and blues, but far from sounding schizoid, it revels in its multiple inspirations. Benoit is in wonderful voice and spirits throughout, sounding loose yet in control regardless of what style he's playing. His guitar solos are taut and succinct, capturing the essence of the atmosphere without reverting to needless showboating. This is music from the heart, played with class, subtlety, and a reverence for its past squeezed into every spirited groove.
On his Vanguard debut, guitarist Tab Benoit favors his usual workmanlike approach, serving up standard blues and Cajun riffs with ease. Though not technically flashy, Benoit is a solid songwriter with enough musicality to more than make up for the lack of fireworks. He can give his songs a restrained ("I'm Tired") or relaxed ("Raided That Joint") feel and he emotes as well as anybody on the title track. The rollicking "Crawfishin'" and "Jambalaya" recall Louisiana, and Benoit closes things off with the frenetically up-tempo "Bayou Boogie." The one possible misstep here is his take on the Willie Dixon classic "Twenty-Nine Ways (to My Baby's Door)"; anyone who remembers Koko Taylor's earthshaking version will find this one a little tame./quote]
Soulful singer and guitarist Tab Benoit has never made secret his devout allegiance to the Louisiana music tradition. With The Sea Saint Sessions, Benoit, ably assisted by several Crescent City stalwarts, takes his music back to the source, setting up shop at the famed hit factory to cook up a sonic gumbo that successfully recaptures the spontaneity of the classic Sea Saint sound. Benoit's guests conjure up some of the studio's old musical magic as "Big Chief" Monk Boudreaux infuses Mardi Gras Indian spirit into "Monk's Blues," Meter man George Porter Jr. funkifies "Making the Bend," and Cyrille Neville sings on his own "Plareen Man". But it is Benoit's distinctive guitar lines–somehow both supple and hard-edged–and the impeccable elasticity of his regular rhythm section that makes the music work. Most of the material is Benoit's own, although he pays tribute to Louisiana legend Guitar Slim with a take on the classic "Sufferin' Mind" and dips into the Howlin' Wolf songbook for a rendition of "Howlin' for My Darling".
Tab Benoit's funky, ragged blend of Louisiana swamp blues and East Texas guitar, with hints of funk, soul, and country thrown in to give the gumbo just the right spice, has served him well since he burst on the scene in the early '90s. Since Benoit hasn't essentially changed his sound since, this collection of sides made up largely from his early releases for Houston-based Justice Records (all of Benoit's Justice albums have been reissued by Vanguard Records in recent years) makes an ideal introduction to what this guy is all about, and although Best of the Bayou Blues covers a five-year span from 1992 to 1997, the tracks all fall together in a completely coherent sequence. Opening with the Benoit original "Voodoo on the Bayou" from 1992's Nice & Warm and running through several originals and some interesting covers (including country-funk takes on Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" and Willie Nelson's "Rainy Day Blues"), this set spotlights Benoit's southern Louisiana take on contemporary blues.