Occasionally new labels emerge that seemingly try to do right for the artists as well as for the blues legacy. Broke and Hungry Records out of St. Louis is one of them. When they ﬁrst introduced Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the blues world celebrated the authenticity of this Bentonia School artist playing a style derived from in and around Bentonia, Mississippi, most famously by Skip James and Jack Owens. Bentonia blues is often played in Open E minor and Open D minor, with a peculiar mournful, listless tonality. Itʼs unique and distinct and was largely conﬁned to the past until Jimmy “Duck” Holmes stared to record again for Broke and Hungry Records.
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a deep-roots folk blues musician who carries on this tradition, in what some musicologists describe as American-primitivism. There is nothing fancy or polished here. Itʼs like back-holler mountain moonshine, and nothing like Johnny Walker Blue label. This is hardcore folk blues not meant for the weak-hearted. He plays a simple, relatively repetitive and monotone style that is at once ethereal, gritty and rough- hewn, even crude, and therein lies its beauty. Some would argue that the original blues was anything but primitive, pointing to sophisticated stylist and pickers such as Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Scrapper Blackwell and Lonnie Johnson. Yet, the primitive school of the blues had always been at the core of the blues. Big Joe Williams and Short Stuff Macon, the Rev. Gary Davis and many others, for example, were essentially not exactly technical virtuosos, but conveyed what is essentially the most important element of the blues– the feeling. The argument of sophistication vs. primitivism is irrelevant. That would be like saying that the true folk musicians, like Doc Boggs, for example, should be discredited because others, like Earl Scruggs, were technically superior.
The bottom line is that Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a big deal to those of us who consider “crude” music to be amazingly beautiful in its simplicity and raw expressiveness, who ﬁnd solace and catharsis in the feeling. Whereas some might prefer fast picking virtuosity, we relate to the inherent sadness of the sound. It expresses sadness, torment, hardship and suffering, but it evokes happiness, healing and joy.
Thatʼs why Jimmy “Duck Holmes” has found so many fans and is a major player on the folk blues festivals and why so many blues lovers around the world buy his CDs– because he is the real damned deal, the true-hearted, low-down, gut-bucket blues.
You gotta love it.
Recommended Starter: Back to Bentonia- Broke and Hungry Records