Guitarist-singer Tab Benoit is the real deal. Born and raised on the Louisiana bayou, this self- proclaimed “new kid from the old school” has been the standard bearer for a new generation of Cajun blues musicians – a traditionalist and an innovator at the same time, grafting elements of rock and soul to the indigenous sounds of the bayou. And if dedicating his life to his musical roots weren’t enough, Benoit has also been a tireless crusader in recent years – prior to the devastation of hurricane Katrina but even more so since – for the preservation of the rapidly vanishing wetlands of his native region.
Benoit unleashes his passion for his homeland and its music in Power of the Pontchartrain, a new Telarc recording that he co-produced with veteran producer David Z (Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Prince). Also on board for the 11-track ride is LeRoux, the enduring Louisiana-based blues/rock/pop collective that has been a regional mainstay since the late ‘70s. The set opens with the swampy “Don’t Make No Sense,” a track that wastes no time showcasing Benoit’s richly layered but always straightforward guitar chops. Nelson Blanchard’s subtle keyboard lines work in perfect tandem with the guitarist’s gritty fretwork. This same guitar-keyboard counterpoint is evident again in the title track. “Power of the Pontchartrain” is an eerie, shimmering ode to the mystical power of the massive lake just north of New Orleans and the dark legends that have evolved around it over the generations. Benoit takes the classic, “For What It’s Worth,” and makes it his own with an unmistakably Cajun edge. Listen closely here for some new lyrics that suggest a note of anger at an economic and social system that has forsaken the bayou underclass.
The home stretch is all about the ladies. “Addicted” is a grinding, midtempo confessional that characterizes a woman’s charms as something far more powerful and alluring than any illicit substances, while the upbeat closer, “One Foot in the Bayou,” is an ode to a woman who leads a paradoxical double-life – half in the high society of the Big Apple and the other half in the earthy world of the Louisiana bayou.
Power of the Pontchartrain is the latest chapter in an eventful career trajectory for Benoit. In 2006, he received the Blues Music Association Award for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year (Fever for the Bayou, CD-83622, released on Telarc in 2005); a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album (Brother to the Blues, CD-83639, released in 2006); and Blues Music Association nominations in 2007 for Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year (the 2007 Blues Music Awards are scheduled for May 10 in Memphis).In addition, he has also fulfilled his duties as president of Voice of the Wetlands, the environmental organization that he founded in 2003, and played a prominent musical role in Hurricane on the Bayou, a documentary by filmmaker McGillivray Freeman that chronicles life in Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina. Hurricane on the Bayou is playing in IMAX theaters in the U.S., Canada and Europe throughout 2007.
Hurricane on the Bayou includes “a lot of images...that people didn’t see on the news,” says Benoit, who hopes that “audiences will get an understanding not just of what happened in New Orleans, but why it happened. Since Katrina, I’ve traveled all over this country and talked to all kinds of people, and I think the one thing a lot of folks share is this feeling that they’d like to help but they don’t know what to do. Hopefully, Hurricane on the Bayou will show them more.”
For every storm that cuts a path of destruction, there is an equally relentless force that inspires hope. One listen to the music is proof enough that Tab Benoit is a force of nature all his own. Tap into the Power of the Pontchartrain.
Tab Benoit’s Power of the Pontchartrain (CD-83654) is due at retail on June 26, 2007.