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.
You don’t need to be religious to enjoy religious music. Almost every style of popular music has roots in gospel music, so if the “message” isn’t doing it for you, the music probably will. Personally, I am not a religious person, but some of my favorite recordings are by artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Staple Singers, and The Dixie Hummingbirds. In the 40’s and 50’s gospel performers like these filled arenas and stadiums! Granted it was a different time but still that’s a pretty impressive feat. I could go on and on here but in the interest of time and space I’ll just say that if you want to read more of my thoughts on the subject of gospel and religious music please see my previous post here… https://www.bottleneckcafe.com/2018/07/gospel-music-is-the-roots/
While the “Golden Age Of Gospel” may have ended in the 1950’s, there still are plenty of wonderful groups today performing good ol’ traditional gospel music. Now thanks to record man Bruce Watson’s new label BIBLE & TIRE Recording Co. some of that music will be more readily available to the masses. Watson has big plans for BIBLE & TIRE. Not only is the label going to be reissuing recordings by lesser known artists but they also plan to release newly record music as well. As Watson was one of the driving forces behind Fat Possum records kick-starting the Mississippi Hill-Country Blues revival, there’s no doubt that the new releases from BIBLE & TIRE will be essential listening for fans of American roots music.
The first of the two initial releases from BIBLE & TIRE is a collection of recordings by ELIZABETH KING & THE GOSPEL SOULS. Recorded in the 1970’s for the D-VINE Spirituals label in Memphis, many of these tracks have never seen the light of day until now. The music here is top-shelf and the recording quality is crystal clear. King’s powerful voice is front and center in the mix and leads the way on tracks such as “Jesus is My Captain”, “I Found Him”, and “I Heard the Voice”. While King is obviously the star here, the rest of the group is equally talented when given the spotlight. The guys take center stage on the gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away” and make it sound fresh and new. Even though I have many other versions of this tune in my musical library I found myself listening to this track over and over. This record is essential for anyone who wants to hear no-frills authentic southern gospel music. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we hear of Elizabeth King and The Gospel Sounds.
The second of the two initial releases from BIBLE & TIRE is a newly recorded album by THE SENSATIONAL BARNES BROTHERS. Entitled NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MY OWN, the album is the brothers take on classic gospel recordings from the Designer Records label. Along with Watson, the Barnes went through hundreds of recordings and handpicked songs to use for this album. Recorded in Memphis and produced by Watson himself this album has a wonderful vintage sound and finds the brothers sounding like a gospel-version of Sam & Dave! While the whole album is strong, the album’s stand out track for me is the Brothers’ version of Pops Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad?”. While this tune has been re-recorded many times before by many different artists it’s never sounded like this! Featuring a strong back-beat, wailing organ, and in-your-face horns, this song is now full on dance number. Hopefully Pops would approve. The musical overtone of the tune might be more upbeat then the original but the message is still just as powerful.
Regardless of your stance on organized religion, if you’re a fan of American Roots music, you need both these albums in your collection. Both will serve you well regardless of whether you play them Saturday or Sunday morning.