Tab Benoit

Tab Benoit
Power Of The Pontchartrain

Telarc CD-83654

By Karen Nugent
September 2007

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Louisiana native Tab Benoit has been playing guitar since he was a teen and hung out at old music club and cultural center in nearby Baton Rouge, where he was inspired by Tabby Thomas and Henry Gray. The young Cajun would sit in with the regulars, eventually inspiring him to form his own band.

He went on the road in the 1990s, touring relentlessly, and, in 2006, won the Blues Music Association award for contemporary blues album of the year, (for Fever for the Bayou.) He has also had a Grammy nomination that year, for Brother to the Blues.

Power of the Pontchartrain, an 11-song tribute to his homeland, is his eighth album with Telarc, and his 14th overall. The record is a winner. Benoit sings and plays guitar on all tracks – he’s equally terrific on both - with backup from the popular Louisiana band, LeRoux.

While not strictly blues – there’s some rock, and of course, Cajun influences – the disc has enough to satisfy most of us.

Benoit has been active in environmental issues for years, and is the founder of Voice of the Wetlands. In that incarnation, he was featured musically in a 2003 documentary about life in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina struck. There seem to several references to that aftermath on this album, including the title, which is named after the state’s huge Lake Pontchartrain, which flooded after Katrina, causing much of the devastation.

The record starts on a strong blues note with "Don’t Make No Sense" featuring Benoit’s gritty guitar work, and Nelson Blanchard on keyboards.

One of my favorite tracks is "Shelter Me." With its powerful guitar and vocal punches, the song is a Gospel-inspired plea for protection from above. The title track, more rock than blues, is about a mystical spirit rising from the massive lake just north of New Orleans, which had dark legends even before Katrina. ("If you go down to the lake, stay away from the shore/She’ll rob you of your soul, and leave corns in your eyes.")

"Sac-au-Lait Fishing," (bag of milk fishing?), and "One Foot in the Bayou" are two more Cajun-flavored songs. The former, the lone original on the disc, is a happy, danceable number, with the requisite "Heys!" The fishing happens at "whiskey bayou," by the way, with the day coming to an end just before the alligators come around.

The closer, "One Foot in the Bayou" is an upbeat number about a bayou woman on her way to New York City, with a big suitcase full of turnip greens, and mud on her shoes.

Back on the blues side of the street, Benoit shines on Lonnie Johnson’s "Somebody’s Got To Go," really banging it up with guitar, and again, great piano work from Blanchard. "Midnight and Lonesome" is a slow bluesy lament to a lost love, with some haunting sounds from a single banjo.

Benoit has included Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth" for some strange reason, although, with Cajun spice thrown in, it doesn’t sound much like the original.

Another poor choice is the slow, country-like "I’m Guilty of Loving You."

Besides Benoit and Blanchard, the band consists of Tony Haselden on banjo, Jim Odom on guitar, David Peters on drums, Leon Medica on bass, and Mark Duthu on percussion.

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