Tab Benoit, the blues guitarist whose fifteen-year career has embraced virtually every shade of American roots music, reconnects to his earliest and most profound influences with the help of some old friends on his Telarc release, Brother to the Blues.
The thirteen-track set features Benoit's solid guitar and vocal attack supported by Louisiana's LeRoux, with spcial guest apearances by some of the most seasoned country and Cajun songwriters and musicians of the past three decades: Jim Lauderdale, Billy Joe Shaver and fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux.
Since the mid-'70s, Louisiana's LeRoux has been a cult favorite along the bayou and nationwide with a sizzling gumbo of blues, R&B, jazz, funk and rock. The lineup on Brother to the Blues includes guitarist Tony Haselden, keyboardist Nelson Blanchard, bassist Leon Medica and drummer David Peters—all of whom hail from different eras of the band's three-decade history.
Jim Lauderdale is what Benoit calls the "new guy from the old school" on the Brother to the Blues guest list. In the early '90s, he helped lay the blueprint for the Americana movement of that decade with a series of albums that covered every conceivable base—country, blues, folk, R&B, bluegrass and roots rock. In the years since, his songs have been recorded by several country stars, including George Strait, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, George Jones and others.
Billy Joe Shaver was Benoit's labelmate on the now-defunct Justice label during the early and mid-'90s. The earliest efforts from the pen of this veteran country singer-songwriter were recorded by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, the Allman Brothers, Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings before he cut his first album in 1973. Armed with a raspy voice and a rough-and-tumble backstory, Shaver continues to churn out songs that are gritty and raw, yet disarmingly honest and compelling—all benchmarks of the country music tradition.
Waylon Thibodeaux, born and bred in the Louisiana bayou, has been widely recognized as a virtuoso of Cajun fiddle since the early '90s. Buoyed by the rich musical and cultural heritage of his homeland and armed with an endless supply of spicy licks, he has built an impressive discography since the early '90s.
Leading this pack of earthy but brilliant songwriters and musicians is Benoit, fulfilling a dream of one day reconnecting with the most basic components that make up his own eclectic and multifaceted style. "I've always been a fan of early country music," says Benoit. "I like the roots of American popular music, and the blues is a big part of that…I grew up listening to a lot of the country legends—Hank Williams, George Jones and others—and I always had it in my mind that someday I'd like to make a record that takes into account all of my early musical influences. After some eleven records, I felt the time was right to record this special project."
The album opens with the swampy "Pack It Up," a gritty midtempo R&B track that maximizes Benoit's solid guitar chops and potent vocal attack, immediately followed by a churning and reverent reading of Sam Cooke's soul classic "Bring It On Home To Me."
Further in, "I'm On Your Side" (penned by Lauderdale) features a midtempo country backbeat, while the Jimmy Davis/Hank Williams prison ballad "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle" slows the pace to a melancholy crawl.
Benoit immediately ratchets up the tempo and the energy on the following track, the funky blues chestnut "If You Love Me," which gets a little extra octane from Blanchard's shimmering Hammond B3. Shaver steps up to the mike for "Comin' On Strong," a track that derives its cajun/country flavor form Benoit's pedal steel and Thibodeaux's spicy pyrotechnics.
"So High" is straightahead rock-edged blues with a freewheeling sensibility that allows plenty of room for Benoit's crunchy guitar work, while "Somehow" is a last-call blues number that showcases Benoit's keen sense of tasteful restraint when it comes to the slower, quieter blues numbers.
The closer brings it all back home to Benoit's most familiar territory with the guitar-heavy bayou backbeat of "Can't Do One More Two-Step," a track that sets up sufficient space for Benoit to trade licks with Thibodeaux—and in so doing, reminds fans and newcomers alike exactly where his music is coming from and all the places he's willing to take it. "This record allowed me to go back and uncover some of my earliest influences," he says. "It allowed me to relive some memories, songs I knew when I was a kid. Sometimes it's good to go back and look at where we came from so we can move on, move forward. This project has provided that for me. I hope my fans enjoy it as much as I did."