Friday, May 28, 2010

Tunes for the Road, Pt. 1: Tab Benoit, “Whiskey Store Live” and “Sea Saint Sessions”

It’s obvious that music is personal, that there’s a very specific personality match to music that must also match whatever activity you’re doing. Some music pumps you up, some puts you to sleep. Some music you play when you’re angry, some music you play when you cook, some music you play when you’re grading papers, some music you play when you’re on the road. Playing the right music at the wrong time just doesn’t work. This is obvious. But for me, there really is no wrong time for blues—and absolutely no wrong time for Tab Benoit. To say I love this guy is not exactly accurate. It’s something closer to lust, but it’s not precisely lust for the musician—it’s lust for the music. Check him out on Pandora or YouTube, if you want. This is sexy music. (Okay, he's also seriously hot, but that's beside the point...) Maybe it’s not the right place to be listening to swamp blues on the flatlands of the northern plains, driving the twelve hundred miles from Ohio to Nebraska to Minnesota (moving is such a pain in the ass), but I’ll take Tab Benoit anywhere I can get him. Blues are all-occasion music: if you listen to it when you’re down, you know that there’s somebody out there who understands; if you listen to it when things are going well, you know that your life could always be worse. And it also makes me crave ribs—so I had ribs at Outback on Wednesday night and ribs at Famous Dave’s on Thursday for lunch.

AMR has a knack for really good driving mixes (post to follow on this subject soon) and since I couldn’t have a book on CD to listen to for the really long drive, I traded off between her 2010 Mix (not to be confused with the seriously awesome 2009 mix) and two new Tab Benoit albums that I didn’t have. They’re not new albums, but they’re new to me. I love this guy. This is Cajun swamp blues and it’s visceral and spectacular and from a place of dark voodoo magic. This is “oh, hells yeah” music. And, for me, that fits nicely with the road.

Benoit often teams up with other musicians, to really great effect. For “Whiskey Store Live,” he shares the stage with Jimmy Thackery. The “Sea Saint Sessions,” though, is just him, though he’s joined by other musicians on a few of the tracks. “Whiskey Store” is on fire, absolutely explosive on a musical level. The roughness of Benoit’s voice (though Thackery’s is rough as well, I just like the quality of Benoit’s), the guitar solos, the addition of alto sax (which also hits me in a good place). There’s always just something really right about gifted musicians playing their instruments like nobody else can.

Most of the songs here are covers, but that doesn’t really detract from anything. He’s working with classic blues (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howling For My Baby”) as well as blues interpretations of other songs. Whatever he does, it’s well done. Favorite songs on the “Whiskey Store Live” album: “Bone Pickin’,” “Whiskey Store,” and “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” Favorite songs on the “Sea Saint Sessions” album: “Howlin’ For My Darling,” “Solid Simple Thing,” and “Darkness.” Benoit is a gifted songwriter as well and it’s well worth checking out his other albums that feature more of his own songs. "Lost in Your Lovin'" is tied for my favorite song of all time. (Best version is on the "Night Train to Nashville" album.) I’m no good at getting terribly technical or specific with music reviews (mostly because at this point in my blues education, I don’t know very much about it or its history)—but I do know what I like. But I may be biased: I would listen to this guy sing the alphabet song.

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