Online since August 2002

Two paths to the blues

From the Winter 2004 issue.

Fever for the Bayou
Fever for the Bayou
By Tab Benoit

Telarc Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

From the Dust
From the Dust
By Rory Block

Telarc Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Tab Benoit has never strayed too far from his Louisiana roots. He's dabbled in Chicago blues, covering songs by Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf among others. He's taken his fans on quick trips to Memphis and Texas. And he's tried his hand at blues-rock, particularly on the recent "Whiskey Store" projects with Jimmy Thackery.

But, for the most part, Benoit sticks with what he knows best, playing a brand of swampy blues that incorporates such elements as Cajun music, zydeco and New Orleans r&b. This is abundantly evident on his latest release, "Fever for the Bayou." With the help of such luminaries as Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Cyril Neville, Benoit serves up an infectious mix that sounds like a random selection playing on the jukebox in some Louisiana dive.

The opener, "Night Train," sets the tone by showcasing Benoit's driving guitar work. Before long, he's stretching out on Buddy Guy's slow blues "I Smell a Rat" and bringing things back down South on the title song, a playful zydeco-style number.

Later, Benoit dips into Slim Harpo's catalog for "Got Love If You Want It" and uses Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out" to play a little slide. Then he does his best Creedence Clearwater Revival impression on the opening to "Blues So Bad."

Boudreaux handles on the vocals on "Golden Crown," a percussive Mardi Gras Indian tribe song that would fit in alongside anything he recorded with the Golden Eagles or the Wild Magnolias.

Benoit joins forces with Neville to give a little history lesson on "The Blues Is Here to Stay." It takes the art form from the cotton fields to the concert halls, acknowledging such artists as Bessie Smith, Little Walter, B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Stevie Ray Vaughan along the way.

If Benoit's brand of the blues is best situated at the end of the timeline covered on "The Blues Is Here to Stay," Rory Block's acoustic style fits in best near the beginning.

For several decades, the New York native has been bringing the sounds of the Mississippi Delta to her audiences. She's a skilled singer, slide guitarist and songwriter, whose original material mixes well with the classics from Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Son House, Charley Patton and others that make up her repertoire.

Block's ample skills are featured on "From the Dust," a new collection that combines the spiritual, traditional and whimsical.

Religious themes abound on such opening songs as "One Way Down," "David Had the Blues," "The Gate" and the title track. At first, it seems like Block has decided to explore the gospel side of the blues, as she did on "Sisters & Brothers," her recent collaboration with Eric Bibb and Maria Muldaur. But before too long she heads off in a more secular direction with "Big as Texas," a salute to the size and culture of the Lone Star State.

Once again Block turns to several blues masters, presenting her interpretations of Patton's "High Water Everywhere," Johnson's "Stones in My Passway," House's "Dry Spell Blues" and Muddy Waters' "I Be Bound."

The whimsy comes in the form of "Runaway Dog," an offbeat tune from an obvious dog-lover.

Among the highlights is "Fargo Baby," a tale that could have come directly from Tom Waits or Quentin Tarantino.

Block employs the occasional use of multitracking on "From the Dust," but mostly this is the blues presented in its simplest form.

Her acoustic sound is the polar opposite of Benoit's electrified approach. Yet one thing is obvious on both releases – a passion for the music.

Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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