John Dee Holeman – Last Pair Of Shoes | Album Review

John Dee Holeman – Last Pair Of Shoes

Music Maker Relief Foundation

9 songs – 39 minutes

90 year old John Dee Holeman is something of a blues legend, with a finger picking style heavily influenced by Piedmont legends, Blind Boy Fuller and the Rev. Gary Davis. On this release, however, Holeman adopts a wild, raucous approach that is closer to the likes of Hound Dog Taylor or Elmore James, both of whose songs he covers.

Unfortunately, the review copy of the CD contained no information in relation to Holeman’s backing band, nor when or how the album was recorded, and internet searches failed to provide any illumination. What can be said however is that whoever recorded the album, captured some sparkling performances from both Holeman and his band (drums, bass, keys/organ, guitar and harp).

The set consists primarily of covers of well-known blues classics, but Holeman and his band play them with such power and such an authentic sound that it is like listening to a recording of a band playing in a bar in Chicago in the 1950s.

The set opens with the madcap party boogie of “Chapel Hill Boogie” in which Holeman declares he is “Going to  Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill is on the ball. If you’re going to Chapel Hill, you gotta drink alcohol.”  As an alumnus of the University of Chapel Hill, this writer can attest to the veracity of that statement. The applause and chatter at the end of the song suggests it is a live recording but no other songs on the album indicate any audience involvement.

Holeman runs through a fine version of Muddy’s “She Moves Me”, with an excellent vocal performance and the harmonica again featuring as the lead instrument. Holeman’s old-as-dirt voice is in great shape, roaring out the lyrics with the energy and range of a much younger man. Likewise, new versions of “Dust My Broom” can be a little hackneyed but Holeman and his band play it with such gusto and with an authentically Elmore-esque vibe that they remind one of how exciting it was to hear that song for the very first time.

Arthur Big Boy Crudup’s 1951 hit, “I’m Gonna Dig Myself A Hole” is played to a “Hi-Heel Sneakers” groove although Holeman’s vocal is far more threatening and harrowing than Crudup’s original. Equally threatening is the slow grind of “Shotgun Blues”, which has some marvelously muddy percussion, reminiscent of the great swampy recordings of Jay Miller and a fine organ solo.

“John Henry” opens with single guitar note picking before the rest of the gently eases in. The track features some nice interplay between the guitar and harp.  “Wig” sees Holeman effectively slow down Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Wig” while the band gives it the full Muddy Waters Band treatment, while Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand” has slight hints of Texas but again the dominant influence is 1950s Chicago. The set finishes with a belting version of Muddy’s “Still A Fool” (here titled “Two Trains”) on which the organ gives a 1960s vibe.

Last Pair Of Shoes is a thoroughly enjoyable album of traditional electric blues from one of the masters.

The Music Maker Relief Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit, was founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time. The Foundation provides education, archival preservation and a range of support for blues, gospel and native artists and should itself be supported by every blues fan.

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