David Bowie and Neil Young will reinvent themselves at the drop of a press release and without the slightest provocation, but Tab Benoit is as reliable as the sun and just as warm and welcome. While the Louisiana-born guitarist/vocalist has a unique ability to find fascinating deviations under the Blues umbrella, from Delta fire and rootsy workouts to swampy Pop classicism and greasy roadhouse authenticity, his unique playing style and bayou identity remain vibrantly intact.
Benoit’s latest studio album, 2011’s Medicine, is a case in point. The opening title track blisters and swings with a groovy intensity, which is followed by “Sunrise,” a mellow Warren-Haynes-channels-Jimi-Hendrix Blues slowburn, and then “A Whole Lotta Soul,” a funky, swaggering nod to Benoit’s encyclopedic Blues influences. If you’re looking for legitimacy, consider this: Benoit’s co-writer and co-producer on Medicine, the great Anders Osborne, played B.B. King’s guitar Lucille on at least half of the album.
Benoit celebrated 21 years of recording this year — his first album for Justice Records, Nice and Warm, was released in 1993 — but his musical passion stretches back to the mid-’70s, when he acquired his first guitar at age 9. Within months he was proficient enough to play any gig he could scrounge up, working essentially the Rock and Country angles.
At 22, Benoit saw the great Albert Collins in New Orleans and switched his allegiance to the Blues. Collins would become Benoit’s mentor and friend for the rest of the legendary guitarist’s life. Over the past two decades, Benoit has recorded 17 studio and live albums (for Justice, Vanguard and Telarc), won a handful of Blues Music Awards, scored a Grammy nomination and founded Voice of the Wetlands, an environmental organization with the goal if increasing awareness of the destruction of Louisiana’s coastal regions. He’s recorded with several members of the Neville family, BeauSoleil’s Michael Doucet, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section) and Charlie Musselwhite, among many others.
If Tab Benoit could draw interest on the Blues dues he’s paid to date, Donald Trump would be his tour bus driver.
Tab Benoit plays at Madison Theater Thursday, Dec. 18. Find tickets/more info here