Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music.
From the opening strains of a monumental organ theme you know this is going to be Prog Heaven. Right on cue the band crashes in and off we go on a roller-coaster ride of majestic proportions. It is a journey that will take us stomping through rough seas of real heavyweight guitar action, sometimes floating lightly on a calm sea beneath the stars of some mellow verses, bobbing bemused on confused waters of quick-fire disorientating theme changes, or surfing serenely on giant Atlantic rollers as riff follows giant riff.
Along the way we open doors into worlds of such delight that no listener will be able to resist, wow moments that cause an involuntary physical reaction, maybe to break into a beatific grin accompanied by a sudden urge to thump something rhythmically. These guys had hit a rich seam of creativity at this time and few bars are without something exciting happening, toying with our emotions and leaving us wanting more.
Tab Benoit's latest release on Telarc, Fever for the Bayou, continues in what has become Benoit's signature territory, a funky, ragged blend of Louisiana swamp blues and East Texas guitar, with hints of funk, soul, and country thrown in to give the gumbo just the right spice. If it sounds like a formula, well, Benoit's jagged guitar playing and increasingly soulful vocals make it clear that this is the music he loves, so it hardly matters. He touches a lot of bases here, including an eerie approximation of Elmore James' slide sound on a cover of James' "I Can't Hold Out" (which also features some cool tenor sax work from Jimmy Carpenter), then conjures Buddy Guy on Guy's "I Smell a Rat," fires up on the old Slim Harpo chestnut "Got Love if You Want It," and tears through a wonderfully swampy take on Levon Helm's "Blues So Bad" before ending things with an acoustic version of Clarence Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" (made famous by another Williams, Hank Williams Sr.).
Louisiana journeyman swamp rocker Tab Benoit has been churning out an album a year since at least 2002, and between them he stays on the road playing every festival, club, and bar that'll have him. It would seem inevitable that the quality of these studio recordings would decline. But, at least as of 2007's Power of the Pontchartrain, that isn't the case. If anything, this might be the best of a very good lot, as Benoit again teams with Louisiana's Le Roux group (who once backed legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and helped on Benoit's previous release) for another 52-minute wade through muggy yet taut bayou blues. Part of the reason Benoit's recent albums are so strong is that he doesn't insist on playing original material, instead cherry-picking nuggets rearranged to suit his approach. This works particularly well here since he unearths terrific, often obscure material from writers such as Julie Miller (two tracks), David Egan (two others), and even Stephen Stills (a not entirely necessary "For What It's Worth").
On this 2006 release, Tab Benoit, the blues guitarist who throughout his career has embraced virtually every shade of American roots music, reconnects to his earliest and most profound influences with the help of some old friends. The thirteen-track set features Benoit's solid guitar and vocal attack supported by the popular Louisiana band, LeRoux, with the addition of special guest appearances by some of the most seasoned country and Cajun songwriters and musicians of the past three decades: Jim Lauderdale, Billy Joe Shaver and fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux.