Tab Benoit's career is like a racehorse that sneaks up on the pack from the outside. He's been quietly building an impressive catalog of music for the last two decades, and Medicine might be his best yet.
Benoit came along in the early 90s at a time when blues guitar rock was in a lost period. Stevie Ray Vaughan had died and modern blues had lost its way. There were many SRV imitators out there, but few had any impact.
Benoit might have initially been seen by some as part of that faceless group when he put out his first album in 1992, but those that looked closely realized that he has always kept a sense of place in his music that separated him from the SRV wannabes. Benoit is pure Cajun having grown up in Houma southwest of New Orleans in the wilds of Louisiana, and he's been true to his roots releasing album after album of strong blues rock, sung with gritty vocals, and filled with strong song selection.
When Katrina hit in 2005 and devastated New Orleans and most all the region that surrounded the Big Easy, Benoit sadly looked like a prophet. In the immediate time leading into Katrina's surprise attack on the Gulf, he was leading the effort to preserve the very coastal wetlands that could have prevented much of Katrina's damage. Benoit founded his Voice Of The Wetlands charity in 2004, and he was also part of a documentary film about these same wetlands (Hurricane On The Bayou) that ultimately told the stark before and after affects of Katrina. Since that time, he has become a prominent spokesman for his home state amongst the Louisiana musical community.
If one can ever find a silver lining in the horror that was Katrina, it would be the world's renewed focus on what an amazing cultural resource New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast are to both the United States and the rest of the world. Benoit was already attuned to this history so Katrina served to bring well deserved notice to his growing musical legacy as well as providing him deeper inspiration for each subsequent recording project.
His Voice Of The Wetlands all star record, also recorded and released before Katrina, featured Benoit alongside the talents of Dr John, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, George Porter, Jr., Johnny Vidacovich, Johnny Sansone, and Wayne Thibodeaux. That project set the table for Medicine since Anders Osborne guests as co-guitarist, co-songwriter, and co-producer.
Confident in his craft and armed by a strong group of collaborators outside of Osborne (Ivan Neville, Brady Blades, Michael Doucet), Medicine serves as a phenomenal return as it has been three years since Benoit's last album. His unique combination of blues, cajun music, and southern rock makes him a Louisiana original of the first order.
One inspired choice on Medicine was utilizing the sounds of today's indie blues sensations - the Black Keys and Jack White. Their heavy and raw take on the blues has revitalized the tradition by bringing things back to basics. Benoit shines in this setting like the gritty title track that kicks off the record. The dual guitar attack of Benoit and Osborne can teach the younger generation a thing or two.
Even though Benoit's inclusion of Doucet's fiddle might be limited to only a couple of tracks, this match works to its own unique perfection. "Can't You See" is a great cajun dance number, while "Long Lonely Bayou" demonstrates the deep cultural ties that link cajun music to Appalachia within a moving, soulful ballad.
Tab Benoit has paid his dues. He's played all the stages - in front of small clubs and big festival crowds - and Benoit knows how to make his guitar sing, wail, and churn. He's in his creative prime leaving his fans in anticipation of his next move. Like the horse emerging from the pack down the home stretch, Medicine finds Tab Benoit heading to the winner's circle with his best days ahead of him.
- Jim Markel