Jim Thackery
& Tab Benoit,
Whiskey Store Live
(Telarc, 2004)

Veteran blues guitarists Jimmy Thackery and Tab Benoit joined forces back in 2002 on a collaborative studio project titled Whiskey Store. This spirited CD received high marks from both blues enthusiasts and the classic rock faithful. Shortly after its release, the folks at Telarc supported this recording with a promotional tour, including a scheduled stop in Unity, Maine, at the Unity Centre for Performing Arts. This popular destination became the chosen venue for a select recording of a live tour performance by these two master bluesmen. Whiskey Store Live captures the full intensity of Thackery and Benoit's amazing performance to a packed house of cheering blues fans on March 24, 2003.

Whiskey Store Live is a nine-track set of sizzling, soulful blues featuring selections from each artist's solo work and six selections from the 2002 release. The six revisited tracks are clearly expanded and revised on this live version, as they come to life with a fresh exhilarating sound. The only thing missing is the rhythm section and guest artists who appeared on the studio version.

The group of talented musicians backing these two dueling guitarists, and responsible for setting a few fires of their own, are Jimmy Carpenter on sax, Ken Faltinson on B3, Carl Dufrene on bass and Darryl White and Mark Stutso on drums. Kudos go out to producer Randy Labbe for taking a back seat, allowing this talented tag team to do what it does best. Whiskey Store Live is your front-row-center seat, where the voltage running between the stage and the crowd feels like lightning.

Thackery breaks out the spirits on the opening track, "Freddy's Combo," a fiery eight-minute instrumental dedicated to Freddy King. Everyone on stage pays tribute to this bluesmaster. The moonshine continues pouring into the next track, so grab a shot glass as Benoit rips right into the drinking classic, "I Got Loaded." Both guitar slingers duel it out, trading solos back and forth as Benoit gives it his all vocally. Benoit's ragged lead vocals are prominently featured throughout this live recording. His 10-minute rendition of the Otis Redding classic "These Arms of Mine" practically brought the crowd to its knees with his stirring, heartfelt performance.

Benoit sets off some fireworks with, "Bone Pickin'," a feverishly paced fingerpickin' number with plenty of swamp funk so you're movin' in your seat. Benoit lights up the sky once more with his blistering "Bayou Boogie," almost 10 minutes worth of incredible blues pickin' as the crowd cheers for more. Thackery takes command on his powerful shuffle version of Dylan's "Leopard Skin, Pill Box Hat" and Mayfield's "Strange Things Happen." He blazes up and down the fretboard, and Carpenter follows right behind with some excellent sax solos. Thackery wraps things up with a slow, dramatic performance of the title track, "Whiskey Store," finally bringing this party to a close.

Whiskey Store Live accentuates the skillful dexterity of both these axemasters, highlighting the musical connection that solidifies their work. Each has his own style and approach to playin' the blues. Thackery is known for his stinging Strat attack, gruff vocals, classic rock flavor and hard-drivin' barroom blues, and Benoit for his tight Telecaster rhythms, exceptional fingerpicking, solid vocal delivery and Louisiana roots with that swampy bayou beat. Initially, some questioned whether or not their musical differences would fit together. These two professionals wasted no time demonstrating just how much their combined efforts genuinely complemented and energized each other. Their differences fit together perfectly, without either artist ever over-shadowing the other. What's most enjoyable about this live recording is hearing both these axemasters tearing it up and having a blast performing together.

Whiskey Store Live is an incredible collection of performances by a guitar dream team. They presented this recording of electric blues in the spirit it's supposed to be played, in front of a live audience. Unlike many other live recordings, which sound tiresome and are nothing more than a string-bending extravaganza, Whiskey Store Live is completely top shelf. The live recording delivers plenty of substance from two of the very best contemporary electric blues guitarists in the business, serving you the finest blend of distilled blues favorites. Even if you own the 2002 studio version, there's plenty of hard-drivin', foot-stompin' blues gems here, well worth your time and attention.

- Rambles
written by Pamela L. Dow
published 28 August 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.