Briggs Farm/Blue Front Records
10 songs and two spoken passages – 62 minutes
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is both blues royalty and a keeper of the flame. One of ten children born to Carey and Mary Holmes, his parents opened the legendary Blue Front Café, now the oldest surviving juke joint in Bentonia, Miss., in 1948, the year after he was born.
Duck still operates the café and often entertains visitors with stories when they travel along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Even more important, however, is his legacy as a practitioner of what’s recognized as the haunting Bentonia style of country blues. Delivered in open E-minor tuning, it’s a style created by Henry Stuckey, carried forward by first-generation superstars Skip James and Bukka White and taught to him by the legendary Jack Owens. And the first six-string he picked up to play had been owned by Stuckey himself.
Like his juke, which is located along Highway 49 south of Yazoo City and hosts a festival every summer, Duck is one-of-a-kind, the last surviving musician performing in the Bentonia style, and this album, recorded in Pennsylvania last year and nominated for 2016 BluesBlast Awards in the Acoustic and Live Blues categories, catches him at his best.
Live From Briggs Farm Blues Festival contains 10 original songs all written from life experience. He hits the stage solo and greets the crowd before breaking into “Slow Down,” a tune that implores a fast-living woman to change her ways. He’s a master fingerpicker who plays slightly behind the beat as he delivers his music in the droning, trance-inducing style that made his town famous. His baritone vocal delivery is rich and warm.
“Worry You Off My Mind” finds Holmes in church, praying for relief from the memory of an evil woman who “drove my prayers away.” The rhythm changes slightly for “Shaggy House,” which singles about six puppies, one of which is a shaggy hound. Duck’s going to take the dogs out to hunt down his missus, who, he’s learned, is making a fortune by selling herself from cell to cell at the county jail.
Holmes’ picking evolves a little further and gains more syncopation for “Wake Up Woman” before he devotes the next two minutes discussing his upbringing in a cut entitled “Bentonia Blues Narrative.” Next up, “Evil” describes how his woman left him and left his life in ruin. It’s Duck’s turn to go in the next song, “I Hate To Leave You,” before his picking style changes once again. He asks his lady to get his “Bath Water” and new shoes ready because he’s in a hurry to go out tonight.
The pace slows slightly for “Cool Water,” a request to soothe his thirst because the moonshine Holmes has been drinking is too harsh on his throat, before devoting another interval to discussing his juke joint in “Blue Front Café Narrative.” Two more tunes — “Early In The Morning” and “Bye Bye” – bring the set to a successful close.
Available as both a CD or LP directly through the label website (address above), Live From Briggs Farm Blues Festival is a welcome flashback to the past as Holmes breathes new life into a tradition that’s a foundation stone of all music we hold dear today.