Down just at the southern tip of the Mississippi Delta sits Yazoo county. The area isn’t anything special to the average traveler and in fact many try to avoid stopping there at all. There are very few business, the weather is usually awful, and there isn’t much to see except for acres of farm land. At the southern end of Yazoo country just off Highway 49 sits the town of Bentonia, population less then 600. Like the rest of Yazoo country, Bentonia, MS might not be much to look at for the average traveler but if you’re a Blues fan, this is an essential spot for you to visit. For this desolate area is home to one of the most legendary Juke Joints on the Mississippi Blues trail, The Blue Front Cafe.
The Blue Front Cafe has called Bentonia, Mississippi home since Carey and Mary Holmes first opened the establishment 1948. A home for live Blues for over 70 years, the cafe now belongs to the couple’s son Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. While the place might not be as well known as it should be when it comes to historical music venues, it still regularly receives visitors from all over the world. During the cafe’s heyday performers such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Skip James, and Son Thomas all graced it’s stage.
In addition to running the cafe Holmes also helps keep the Blues alive by regularly performing at the cafe for his guests. An accomplished Blues guitarist in his own right he’s released several albums over the years but sadly none have gained much attention outside of a few die-hard Blues fans. Fortunately for Holmes, one of those fans is Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach and he feels like that should change.
Recorded at Auerbach’s own Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, CYPRESS GROVE is Holmes’ first release for Auerbach’s label (also called Easy Eye Sound). Even thought the music was recorded in a studio with top session players, the vibe on CYPRESS GROVE is dark and gloomy and has more in common with the swamps of Mississippi then the bright lights of Music Row. Classic Blues songs like “Little Red Rooster” and “Catfish Blues” are given new life while still keeping their bluesy feel. In fact the garage-blues feel of “Rooster” makes it sound like it could be on a Tom Waits album.
Another stand out track is Holmes’ version of “Devil Got My Women”. Originally written and performed by the late Skip James (also from the Bentonia area) this song has been performed by many but done right by very few. For their version of the song Holmes and Auerbach stick close to the original over all feel of the tune but make it their own by adding a little percussion and some acoustic lead guitar in choice moments. Thus creating a beautiful version of a very sad song.
At 72 years of age Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is no spring chicken but he isn’t dead either. He is however one of the last living links to a time and genre of Blues that are almost gone. Thus making Cypress Grove a very important album, especially this day in age. Here we have two people from very different walks of like but yet, they together have created a wonderful album that should please fans of both modern and traditional Blues. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of this very talented partnership.