Tab Benoit’s been cranking out an impressive body of work in recent years, with a consistency that’s never grown stale thanks to both heartfelt passion and a unique take on swampy blues.
Most of his recent discs have featured guest artists from his native Louisiana. Medicine is no exception; on hand to help out with atmospheric fiddle is the great Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil, one of the state’s most prominent musical ambassadors. And Benoit co-wrote seven of the disc’s eleven tracks with Anders Osborne, who contributes rhythm guitar throughout, much of it on none other than B. B. King’s famous Lucille.
Geography plays a large part in Benoit’s music. An ardent conservationist and advocate for the threatened wetlands, he’s never been afraid to include topical and environmental concerns in his writing, and here does so on several compositions. It’s most explicit on “Whole Lotta Soul,” a proudly defiant ode to Benoit’s beloved Bayou and the resilience of the Cajun people. But it’s there in every swampy groove, from the grinding, mud-thick title track that kicks things off, to the buoyant and bouncy two-step of “Mudboat Melissa,” a tune as down-home and earthy as its title suggests. In between there’s the exuberant shuffle of “Come And Get It,” the funky “Broke And Lonely” (borrowing a bit of its melody from the famous “Good Morning Little School Girl” riff), and the melancholy “Long Lonely Bayou,” an evocative acoustic duet between Benoit and Doucet. A highlight among the covers is the aching balladry of Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes The Place Of You,” here given a stripped-down, raw reading that’s emotionally wrenching.
Benoit’s core band consists of Ivan Neville on keys (son of Aaron and a nephew of the famous musical Neville clan), drummer Brady Blade, and bassist Corey Duplechin. They manage a sound that’s heavy yet never plodding, muscular yet supple and responsive. Benoit’s a fine guitarist, with a nice, crunchy-clean tone, and he never overplays. In that true swamp tradition, he’s laconic both vocally and instrumentally, never seeming to try too hard yet all the more expressive for it.
Benoit’s overall sound may not vary too much with each release, but within the territory he’s staked out over the course of his career, he’s never less than an honest, engaging, and always-interesting artist of the highest caliber. Medicine is a fine and worthy addition to his admirable catalogue.