Tab Benoit spoiled his fans.
The laidback singer-songwriter, who will be the headline performer Saturday at the Sedgwick County Zoo’s Zoobilee fundraiser, has been to blues what Robert Pollard has been to alternative rock: prolific. Benoit averaged about an album a year until his latest, “Medicine,” dropped in 2011. There was nearly a four-year gap between projects.
But “Medicine” is worth the wait. The disc is arguably the finest of Benoit’s career, loaded with gritty, swampy blues. Lyrically, the disc ranges from swaggering to sentimental. Much ground is covered, and Benoit benefits from key assists from a stellar group of musicians, which include Ivan Neville, Michael Doucet and producer David Z.
But Anders Osborne provides the most notable support. The New Orleans songsmith not only plays guitar with Benoit, he also co-wrote seven of the 11 songs.
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“It was a loose thing between us,” Benoit said. “It wasn’t part of a big plan. We just wanted to get together and have some fun, and we did that. We had a great time. We connected in so many ways. It was a very satisfying project with not just (Osborne) but with everyone else that joined me. It was very productive. I hope it made up for that (gap between albums).”
Getting Louisiana back on its feet years after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina is important to Benoit. When he belts out “I Was Born Inside This Delta,” the listener can feel the heat emanating from Benoit’s voice. When he and Doucet play zydeco on “Mudboat Melissa,” you can tell that Benoit lives the music.
“When you’re from there and you live there, it should mean a lot to you,” Benoit said. “It means a lot to me.”
The title track is perhaps the catchiest cut. The inspiration came from an unlikely spot.
“People probably think ‘Medicine’ came from this deep place,” Benoit said. “But that’s not the way it always is with songs. They can come from some funny places. The song came from a joke of sort. Anders and I were writing on a houseboat. We went out and were a good bit from the mainland, and Anders forgot his medicine. So we had to go back to get it. So it was like a joke, ‘Bring me my medicine.’ And it dawned on me, ‘Hey, maybe we have something there.’ Then the song just happened. It was no grand plan. But that was what was great about this album. We had so much fun with each song. We laughed and had a good time and we experienced the joy of songwriting. That’s the way it should be.”
Benoit has a local following and swings through Wichita fairly regularly for gigs, including those at the Cotillion.
At Zoobilee, he will perform on the zoo’s main stage by the giraffes after the auctions, likely around 9:30 p.m., said Melissa Graham, the zoo’s marketing manager
Contributing: Lori O’Toole Buselt of The Eagle