The 72-year-old Delta bluesman’s Auerbach-produced Cypress Grove captures the raucous sounds of the juke joint.
Bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is an American treasure. The 72-year-old is the foremost torchbearer of a deep and esoteric style of Mississippi Delta music associated with the town where he has spent his entire life: rural Bentonia. He’s also the proprietor of the nation’s longest operating juke joint, the Blue Front Café, which his parents established there in 1948. Holmes learned the Bentonia blues style at the side of its originators, including Henry Stuckey and the more famous Skip James, who had a renaissance during the ’60s folk blues revival. Every year in June, Holmes celebrates the music that’s in his DNA by hosting the Bentonia Blues Festival on his family’s farm.
But there’s a less formal celebration every weekend, when the Blue Front stays open late, cold beer flows like rain, and the music gets loud, raucous, and unpredictable. That’s the spirit that producer Dan Auerbach has captured on Holmes’ new album, Cypress Grove.
The song we’re premiering, “All Night Long,” is a robust, free-ranging original built along the thorny backbone of Holmes’ guitar, with interjections by Auerbach, adding fills and commentary, and an essay on hot-butter slide by Marcus King. The album is packed with 6-string highlights, built around Holmes’ rusty freight-train rhythms and tonal surprises, like the feedback drone Auerbach makes sing like an Indian tanpura on the title track.
In Nashville’s Easy Eye Sound studio, Auerbach and Holmes run through the bones of one of Holmes’ durable culled-from-life numbers before showing it to the studio band and firing up the tape recorder.
Just because the album was recorded at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville doesn’t mean it’s not authentic down-home Mississippi blues. The Black Keys’ frontman explains his modus operandi: “I like to work with people who inspire me, and Jimmy inspires me. Jimmy’s music is rough and tumble, and it can shatter a lot of preconceptions purists have about Delta blues. At the Blue Front, you never know who’s going to show up, or what instrument they’ll be playing. There could be three guitars, bass, drums, mandolin, and fiddle one weekend, and then the next weekend a banjo player or a saxophonist shows up. So the sound always reflects the ages and experiences and styles of the musicians who are there, and that keeps it fresh, modern, and totally unpredictable.”
In addition to Dan Auerbach and Marcus King, Holmes’ new album includes contributions from Mississippi blues bass MVP Eric Deaton and drummer Sam Bacco, who is a percussionist in the Nashville Symphony.
If you’d like to know more about Bentonia blues and Jimmy “Duck Holmes,” check out our interview with him from September 2016. And you can also dig into Ryan Lee Crosby’s Bentonia Blues lesson from September 2019.
One of the country’s most popular newgrass bands debuts a scorching instrumental from their latest album, Love. Ain’t Love.
Mandolinist Jacob Jolliff’s burning instrumental off Yonder Mountain String Band’s latest album, Love. Ain’t Love, might owe some stylistic credit to past bluegrass masters like Bill Monroe and Sam Bush, but he has a friend with not-so-hot cooking skills to thank for the title. “I had a roommate who was a disaster in the kitchen,” remembers Jolliff. “He set the smoke alarm off multiple times during the course of cooking a meal, and said to me, ‘Man, I just don’t know what to do. It’s like eat in, go deaf, eat out, go broke.’”
What the tune may lack in culinary tips, it more than makes up in sheer bluegrass shred. Jolliff’s machine-gun riffing that kicks off the tune is inspired and forceful. The tune’s changes go by so quick that guitarist Adam Aijala relies on substance over pyrotechnics when it comes to soloing. “Jake’s melodies are incredibly intricate and at this tempo it was a bit challenging to come up with something within those parameters,” says Aijala. “A common approach when soloing over an instrumental tune is to state the melody in a roundabout way while adding your own style and ideas.”
Aijala used the same guitar that he relies on for Yonder’s incendiary live shows: a 2004 Collings D1 that was miked with a matched pair of Neumann KM 184 mics he acquired about 12 years ago. Love. Ain’t Love is an expansive statement full of down-home bluegrass stompers (“On Your Dime”), soulful acoustic pop (“Alison”), and even some reggae influences (“Groovin’ Away”). At 20 years deep into their career, Yonder is as youthful, tuneful, and energetic as ever. They’ve survived lineup changes and the rigors of the road to come out the other side as one of the top newgrass ensembles around. As always, they are constantly touring and you can find current dates on their website.
The brothers Dickinson return with a grinding blues ’n’ roll homage to their home turf’s tough sound, spiked by slicing slide guitar from Luther Dickinson and guest Kenny Brown.
Although the North Mississippi Allstars have been making music as a band and touring the world for 21 years—Prayer for Peace, arriving June 2, will be their 17th full-length album—the group’s feet have always remained planted firmly in the soil of the Magnolia State’s hill country. That’s where Luther and Cody Dickinson’s father, the famed producer, pianist, songwriter, and raconteur Jim Dickinson, relocated his family after decades in Los Angeles specifically for the benefit of his sons’ musical education.
Obviously they learned well—forging a highly original sound from the foundation of the region’s legendary musicians, including R.L. Burnside, Othar Turner, Junior Kimbrough, and, from an earlier generation, Fred McDowell. That sounds drives “Run Rooster Run,” an exclusive Premier Guitar preview from Prayer for Peace. Luther Dickinson’s fat signature slide guitar grinds over his brother’s powerhouse drumming—which manages to propel the song like a freight train while still threatening, like the best Mississippi juke joint music, to jump the rails.
“‘Run Red Rooster’ is a true story about a friend of ours who ran to freedom from a road block,” says Luther. The song also has a Memphis connection. “The song was recorded live on the floor at the legendary Royal Studios [the historic ground zero of Hi Records] by Boo Mitchell,” he adds, “and features Kenny Brown on that Burnside boogie guitar. Keep an eye out for the remix in the coming weeks.”
Luther and Cody revisit the Burnside catalog elsewhere on Prayer for Peace with a new version of Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney,” and while the album takes its name from an Allstars’ original track, they also cover McDowell’s classic gospel-blues, “You Got to Move.” In keeping with that theme, the album was recorded at studios in St. Louis, Kansas City, Brooklyn, Austin, and at their late father’s Zebra Ranch in Hernando, Mississippi. Notable guests joined them along the way, including bassist Oteil Burbridge, Jack White’s bassist Dominic Davis, and Shardé Thomas, the granddaughter of Othar Turner, who, like her granddad, leads a Mississippi fife and drum group. As usual, the brothers Dickinson are currently on tour. Dates are listed on the North Mississippi Allstars homepage.