Though Tab Benoit’s debut, Nice and Warm, dates back nearly 20 years to 1993, the newly compiled Legacy: The Best of Tab Benoit focuses primarily on the past 10 years. The Louisiana-based blues guitarist and singer offers 14 highlights from 10 albums released on the Telarc label. The gritty tracks make a powerful case for Benoit both as an interpreter of other artist’s material as well as a solid songwriter in his own right.
The earliest track, and indeed the only one not recorded in the 21st century, is a 1998 cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell On You.” While his take won’t make anyone forget the original (or the Creedence Clearwater Revival version, for that matter), it features Benoit’s excellent guitar work, both acoustic and electric. Other strong covers include a hard-grooving reworking of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” driven by David Peters’ drumming. An intimate version of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” from 2002’s Wetlands strips the song to its essence, with only Carl Dufrene on bass and Darryl White on drums accompanying Benoit.
Also from Wetlands is the Benoit original, “Muddy Bottom Blues,” which kicks along with White’s insistent backbeat. The same trio simmers slowly on Benoit’s “Darkness,” from the 2003 album The Sea Saint Sessions. Benoit recorded Fever for the Bayou in 2005 with Dufrene and White, which is where the original song “Night Train” is pulled from. Benoit really shines in this basic, elemental blues setting, peeling off searing guitar solos. Larger ensembles are featured on several tracks, including “Comin’ On Strong,” with a guest vocal by Billy Joe Shaver. Jimmy Carpenter’s saxophone and Ken Faltinson’s Hammond organ pump extra energy into a positively smoking 10-minute live take on “Bayou Boogie,” from Whiskey Store Live!.
New liner notes by John Swenson, author of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, help put the 14 selections in context with Benoit’s overall career. As a sampler, Legacy: The Best of Tab Benoit is a terrific overview of his no-nonsense brand of blues. If you’re new to Benoit’s music, this set just might end up whetting your appetite for more.