Tab Benoit
& Jimmy Thackery,
Whiskey Store
(Telarc, 2002)

Back in college, I lived on the West Bank, an area of Minneapolis renowned for being a crossroads of counter-culture, the place the suburbs forgot, and for having a hopping blues bar on every one of its improbable corners. And nothing reminds me so much of a slow, sweaty blues crawl through the West Bank as Whiskey Store by Tab Benoit and Jimmy Thackery.

You open the door and get a face full of smoke, beer, crowds of people dancing and weaving to this jumping juke joint blues called "I Ain't Broke." You look at your friends, grin and, without saying a word, you have decided where the party is.

Whiskey Store has every one of the elements that a hot night in a blues club has: a crunching rhythm section, steaming guitar licks, gravel-necked vocals and a groove as deep the one in the dance floor. It's a great blend of up-tempo and belly-rubbing, of swinging and hard-edge, of covers and originals.

After "I Ain't Broke," Benoit and Thackery kick into the title track, a straight-up shot of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn in a dirty glass. No surprise that Stevie's sound is in here. Not only are Thackery and Benoit two of the top blues guitarists going, they're playing with Reese Wynans, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, otherwise known as Double Trouble. Throw in Charlie Musselwhite, and you have a band that sounds like it's been playing together at every roadhouse and sin shack for years, not a project from a studio.

These guys do a hell of a job going from dark to light and from chugging to grinding. I especially like their takes on "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and the Stones' "The Last Time." Contrast that with the wailing ballad "Nice and Warm," the swinging instrumental homage to Freddie King called "Freddy's Combo," and the almost-funky, rocking original "Bone Pickin'," and you have a recording that demands a hell of a lot more attention than it's likely to get in the mainstream listening world.

Thackery and Benoit each has his own career and strengths. It's amazing to me that these guys can come together and mesh so well you'd think they grew up together. Thackery brings a more rocking edge (like "The Last Time" and "I Ain't Broke") and Benoit brings the swamp blues ("Away, Away Too Long" and "Nice and Warm"). Together they flat-out blow you away. Double Trouble lays it down and Thackery and Benoit pick it up and run. It's uncompromising, 100-proof blues: defiant and despairing, swaying and jumping all at the same time.

Whiskey Store is, like Minneapolis' West Bank, a forgotten gem right in your backyard, but once you get there you wonder why you'd ever want to leave. Well, if you can't get out to the West Bank, slap this in your CD player, pour yourself something dangerous and stay all night.

- Rambles
written by Fred Keller
published 22 March 2003

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