Tab Benoit, These Blues Are All Mine (Vanguard Records, 1999)

When I started this review, I had no idea who Tab Benoit was. None whatsoever. All I had to go on was the title of the album and the assumption that he/she/it was a blues singer. Luckily, Tab Benoit has a Web site, through which I was able to achieve enlightenment.

To sum up, Tab Benoit is a product of South Louisiana, a singer and guitarist who specializes in a lively, spicy “Cajun rock n’ blues” and who regularly thrills his audiences with a talent compared to that of “some of the greatest bluesmen and guitarists of all time.” His music has been heard on such shows as Northern Exposure, Melrose Place, Party of Five, and even (onscreen, no less!) the premiere episode of Baywatch Nights. He’s certainly no unknown, for all of my ignorance.

I love a good challenge. I’ve never exactly been one for blues music. The closest I’ve come to it was watching Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. So, given the choice to try something new, I took the chance.

I’m glad I did. This guy is good. These Blues Are All Mine is his fourth album, his first non-live album in five years; and, if this is any indication of his talents, than surely I’ve been deprived all this time.

These Blues Are All Mine has everything I’d expect of blues, and a whole lot more. Soulful singing, a lively beat, and guitars that do everything but dance. The best way I can describe this album is “mellow.” It comes on subtly, captures your attention quietly, bides its time, draws you in, and then surprises you with an energetic kick to the knee to make sure you’re not asleep.

This album is lively, jaunty, full of a finger-snapping, toe-tapping beat that’s downright infectious. And yet it never manages to become predictable. No sooner do I get used to the more traditional style of “Raided That Joint,” then Tab and friends launch into “Crawfishin’,” a song which has a Fifties-style rock beat and a country twang, effortlessly blending techniques. It would be easy to replay these songs over and over, just to focus on a different aspect each time. There’s the guitar of Tab Benoit, the drums of Allyn Robinson, the piano and organ talents of Marc Adams, and David Lee Watson on bass, all playing together as though they were born for it.

Take “Mother Earth,” a soulful ballad that echoes how I’ve always thought blues was supposed to sound, all in slow motion, a mellow croon that speaks to the heart. Or “Don’t Lose Your Cool,” which is a lot more rock ‘n roll in origin and sound. Or perhaps your tastes run to the strong drum beat-ridden “Jambalaya.” Perhaps you’d prefer “Bayou Boogie,” which is eerily reminiscent of Fifties-era rock, living up to the “Boogie” part of the name. Whatever your tastes, it’s a good bet that Tab has something to suit you.

Is this good? I’m still here, aren’t I? Bad music makes me leave the room. Awful music makes the cats leave too. Both cats and I are still listening. And trust me, one of my cats sings the blues every time he goes to the vet. But he’s no Tab Benoit. If he was, I’d sign him up.

This is a good album. I won’t call it perfect, but by all means, it’s a solid, respectable representative of the genre and Tab Benoit. And sometimes, that’s all we really need. It can hold its own anyway.

Tab Benoit’s official Web site is here. You can also visit Vanguard Records to check out his label. If you find yourself enjoying his music, you might want to catch him live, which isn’t as hard as you may think. His website claims that he does around 200 shows a year, and every show is unique, played to suit the crowd and fit the mood. So it might be worth checking out to see if he’ll be your way any time soon.

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