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Best of the Bayou Blues by Tab Benoit

Tab Benoit is really at his best live at a nice crazy venue like the Rock ‘n Bowl in New Orleans, jamming like mad on the guitar, breaking string after string after string (the man plays that axe so hard, he goes through so many strings you’d think he uses a razor blade for a pick), flirting with all the women and just cutting loose with his incredible stage presence and guitar virtuosity. He’s a hard guy to capture on a CD - you can still hear the overwhelming strength and versatility of his guitar work, but the presence really drops away.

And that’s really my complaint about Best of the Bayou Blues. The work is unquestionably masterful, but that goes without saying for a musician of Benoit’s caliber. Unfortunately, there’s no personality to this disc. It’s a hodgepodge of styles and influences rather than a cohesive whole or a musical statement. A lot of this is the inherent pathology of the "best of" compilation: a format that really works best as an introduction to those unfamiliar with an artist or to those who just want to pad out their music collection.

It’s far from an ideal way to get a real sense of an artist, especially an artist as eclectic as Tab Benoit. This confusion is reflected in the song selection, which ranges from basic (milquetoast, even) southern rock ("Voodoo on the Bayou") to guitar-burning Chicago-style blues ("Nice and Warm") and even to Mardi Gras music (Jambalaya).

The standout songs are, as always with Benoit, the down and dirty guitar-grinding smoke-filled blues club songs, the sort of songs that get the old guys in the audience shaking and swaying their heads, and get shouts of "yeah!" from the back of the room laid over the harshest licks. "Drownin’ on Dry Land" is the first of these, a flawlessly executed homage to the jazz greats of the past. Although nobody can match Albert King’s version, Benoit comes closer than anyone else I’ve ever heard. He moves to originals in "Nice and Warm," a wailing, tearing piece of traditional electric blues with notes bending deliciously all over the place, and which also showcases Paul English’s soulful organ work. "Gone Too Long" is full of energetic riffs that are vaguely reminiscent of Lucky Peterson. Finally, "Standing on the Bank" is the only track on this disc, and possibly the only song of Benoit’s that I’ve ever heard, where the vocals are as strong as the guitar.

Ultimately, I can’t recommend this disk to Benoit fans. You’ll already have most of the songs and an actual fan of an artist should never buy one of these "best of" collections. Try real albums instead, but if you just want to give him a whirl, well, pick up the songs I mentioned above (plus "Rainy Day Blues") on iTunes and give the rest of the disc a miss. But if, if, if you want to own just one Tab Benoit disc and want a high-quality romp through his massive stylistic range, you could do worse.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tab Benoit
  • CD Title: Best of the Bayou Blues
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Vanguard Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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