Tab Benoit

Voice of the Wetlands

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Bayou bluesman Tab Benoit set up VOW (Voice of the Wetlands), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping preserve Louisiana's wetlands and culture, in 2003, and this album was originally intended as a benefit release to raise funds for the cause. Recorded during the first week of January 2005 in New Orleans with an all-star cast of Louisiana musicians, including Benoit, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dr. John, Cyril Neville, bluesman Anders Osborne, the Meters rhythm section of George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich, Jumpin' Johnny Sansone, and ace Cajun fiddler Wayne Thibodeaux, the album was at the pressing plant eight months later when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf, underscoring the vital importance of the wetlands, which in a pristine condition might have absorbed a good part of the storm surge that ended up devastating New Orleans. The aftermath of Katrina gives several of the songs here an added poignancy, especially the opener, "Bayou Breeze," with its chorus of "don't let the water/wash us away," and Dr. John's angry "We Ain't Gonna Lose No More (Without a Fight)," which could be interpreted with hindsight as a retort to FEMA and the Bush administration response to the disaster. The overall tone of the set is more joyous than despondent, though, as befits the ebullient spirit of New Orleans, and the album itself is a decent introduction to contemporary bayou music. Thibodeaux's fiddle-driven version of fellow fiddler Doug Kershaw's classic "Louisiana Man" is a particular delight, as is Monk Boudreaux's rendition of the Afro-Caribbean folk calypso "Hold 'Em Joe," here called "Me Donkey Want Water" in a customized bayou version that closes the set. Despite its title and agenda, Voice of the Wetlands isn't over-preachy, but wisely lets the wonderful music do the talking. Katrina underscored the immense value of the Louisiana wetlands and the culture it supports, and one hopes that this album is a small step toward the strong re-emergence of both.

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