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Tab Benoit marries blues, country

Stewart Oksenhorn
Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit opens the Snowmass Village Free Concert Series with a performance tonight on Fanny Hill. (Philip Gould)
ALL | Philip Gould

Some years ago, singer-guitarist Tab Benoit said he had no interest in playing the zydeco music of his native southern Louisiana. He dismissed the style, calling it something like “the chanka-chanka sound,” and said he’d stick to the blues.Over the years, Benoit has embraced a wider variety of sounds and has even allowed, yes, some zydeco influence to creep into his music. But part of the point Benoit was making remains true: It is the blues that runs deepest in his heart, and always will.

Benoit’s latest CD, released in April, is “Brother to the Blues.” It is his foray into country territory: The material includes bedrock country like Hank Williams’ “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle” and the album-closing “Can’t Do One More Two-Step.” Guests include alt-country singers Jim Lauderdale and Billy Joe Shaver, both of whom also contribute songs to the cause.But Benoit can’t separate himself from the blues, and that makes “Brother to the Blues” something of a two-faced project. On the few tracks that feature fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux, he plays it pure country. The title track finds Benoit crooning and twanging; on Shaver’s “Comin’ On Strong,” the two singers trade vocals, and Benoit adds pedal steel to his repertoire for extra countrified effect. But that standout tune is followed by “So High,” which finds Benoit in a blues-rock vein, making for a jarring transition and leaving the theme by the wayside. On several other songs, Benoit abandons the whole country idea to rip into the blues. Oddly, one of those is the very first tune, the funky “Pack It Up.” The latter part of “Brother to the Blues” settles into the blues-country groove. Lauderdale’s “Grace’s Song,” followed by two Benoit originals – the truly rural “Moon Coming Over the Hill,” and the soft, slow ballad “Somehow” – stick to the notion that blues and country are the closest of relations. All of the standout moments here are the ones where Benoit marries the two styles.

Benoit performs at 6 p.m. today on Fanny Hill in the opening concert of the Snowmass Village Free Concert Series. The series continues each Thursday through Aug. 24.The Louisiana thread is strong in the first few weeks. A pair of New Orleans bands – roots-rockers the Iguanas, July 6, and funk outfit Papa Grows Funk, July 13 – following Benoit. The subdudes, a soul-rock band with roots in New Orleans and Colorado, returns July 20, after a standout gig in the series last summer.Chicago blues group Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials appear July 27, on the heels of the release of the new CD “Rattlesnake.” New York groove-jazz trio Soulive is scheduled for Aug. 3, with another New Orleans act, R&B band Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, playing Aug. 10.

Teenage singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell, making a name for herself with her recent second CD, “Words Came Back to Me,” performs Aug. 17. The series closes Aug. 24 with newgrass icon Sam Bush.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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