Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Easy Eye Sound
In a musical sense, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a direct descendant of Skip James – Holmes is one of the last surviving practitioners of the Bentonia School of blues guitar playing, as pioneered by the unrecorded Henry Stuckey and passed down to Skip James, Jack Owens and “Duck”; players like Arthur Cruddup, Bukka White and Albert Collins have used aspects of the sound in their playing too. It relies on droning strings and haunting minor chords to make for an eerie, dark funk of blues and here Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys is the sideman and producer, giving Holmes’ distinct feel and style just enough of a spit-polish.
It’s a brilliant album of mostly traditional material – you’ll hear new versions of songs that are seeped in blues tradition (Hard Times, Catfish Blues, Little Red Rooster, Devil Got My Woman) as well as some of Holmes’ originals.
If you enjoyed the revival/retrieval of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (another Auerbach assist, in part) then you’ll want to sign up here and now for this.
Auerbach is in great form when collaborating in this way – his worth with Dr John is recalled here, he knows when to stand back and allow the magic to happen on its own (Hard Times opens the record with a sinewy bit of guitar-gristle and the full throat of Holmes in fine form) and when to assist (Catfish Blues churns along in a psychedelic-rock pocket).
The version of Little Red Rooster is one of my favourites – almost incongruously it features a touch of saxophone, taking on the late-60s John Mayall sound in a way.
And we get a fine tribute to Skip James with the rendition of Devil Got My Woman.
It’s a brilliant set and Holmes, 72, sounds so good across this record. I’ve said before that whatever keeps Auerbach from releasing Black Keys albums is good with me. And now I’ve said it again. I mean it. But I need to give him more than damned faint praise – his work here in realizing a true talent and then bringing it to the fore and using his platform to push it is some of his finest work to date. His legacy will be a strange, maybe complicated one – but he’s done some amazing work in assists, as both sideman and producer.
It’s not very often that a brand new blues record takes my interest but this is superb. And I can’t stop playing it. It’ll be counted as one of my best and favourites of the year. And I know I’ll be listening to it for a long time to come. Somehow it feels like something brand new and old (traditional) all at once.