Tab Benoit – “The Sea Saint Sessions“ [Telarc Blues CD-83573]

Roots and Blues Gumbo
February 2005

 

            
Take me down to the small town of Houma, Louisiana, to the juke joints and Cajun swamp pop clubs in which great legends of the blues, Guitar Slim, Raymond George and Thunderbird Davis stoked the crowds with their riffs. Into this hotbed of creative flatpicking comes Tab Benoit, a bluesman building on this small town roots scene. With his power trio of Carl Defrene on bass and Darryl White on drums, Benoit produces this audiophile gem, capturing not only the ambience of one of New Orlean’s classic recording venues but creating a perfect sonic stew of roots and blues that goes down oh so right.

The first ingredient in this delicious recording is the perfect rendering of the Big Easy Recording Studio (aka Sea Saint Studios), home to many blues greats’ recordings over the years. Benoit remarks that this studio certainly has a “vibe,” and he and his recording team perform magic in this regard, giving the listener a perfect rendering of the small, cavernous studio, with lots of reverberation off close walls and a deep sense of the precise space in which Benoit’s vintage Fender guitars and amps strut and envelope the listener. Lots of warmth, air, and reverb cast an uncanny sense of space in this old studio, (which must have lots of ghosts strolling in its halls) adding to the great image dimensionality of this recording. Each of the players are rendered razor-sharp and stable on the stage before you, completing an amazingly solid and three-dimensional soundstage. You can almost taste that “honey” in that “honey-dripping sugar-daddy” known as the “Plareen Man,” a hot number that closes the set.

The other great spice added to Benoit’s perfect sonic jambalaya is the fact that Benoit doesn’t just stick to the prime elements of 12-bar blues, but ventures creatively in every direction of roots and Cajun blues invention. The disc begins with the searing “Baby Blue,” where if you are not careful, you will fall right out of your listening chair when Benoit’s voice enters centerstage for the first time. Benoit’s voice is not only perfectly rendered in front of you, but he has great vocal range, a deep, smooth baritone which when pushed into the treble, gets a husky quality which fits his Cajun Belle swamp calls perfectly: “Would you like to go fishing? Would you like to wear my ring?”

Benoit’s guitar playing is a marvel throughout. At one moment, he is playing soft and humbly on a slow blues tune, like the soulful “Sufferin’ Mind,” with a unique bending of strings that caress the outer reaches of this simple piece. The next moment, he is “Hustlin’ Down In New Orleans” utilizing an amazing array of cross-picking patterns, riffs and funky New Orleans style cords that will have you body shakin all over. “Solid Simple Thing” starts off with a great strutting blues progression turned into a complex, churning roots number. Benoit has a unique style of bending strings and what I can only describe as a “banging” of his guitar strings, lending a great rhythmic damping to great rollicking numbers like “Making The Bend” (with powerful guitar duet work by George Porter) and “Howlin’ For My Darling.” The live and spontaneous feel of this recording is concluded with the “Plareen Man,” where Benoit and his band are joined by greats Cyril Neville and Monk Boudreaux in a steamy concoction of a side-steppin’ roots number. Voices call and beckon into the wonderful warmth of the Big Easy Studio, leaving the listener begging for another round of sweet sonic treats from Benoit and his roots pals.

We welcome readers’ comments or suggestions of other good pieces of music that we can share in a Stereo Times music review. Please contact NelsonBrill@stereotimes.com


Nelson Brill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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