Monday, March 26, 2012

John Dee Holeman Says You Can’t Win All the Time

One can certainly appreciate the work of Tim Duffy and the Music Maker Foundation. The Foundation’s efforts to assist and promote mostly southern rural musicians certainly have benefited a number of musicians. They have also made available recordings by a number of artists, although these vary considerably in quality. North Carolina bluesman John Dee Holeman is one of the artists that has fallen under the Music Makers Recordings umbrella with his latest CD, You Got to Lose, You Can’t Win All the Time.

Holeman, a veteran Piedmont bluesman who learned from Blind Boy Fuller, has been honored by the National Endowment of the Arts with a Heritage Fellowship. This album was produced by Zeke Hutchins, who plays with country artist Tift Merritt, and essentially has him mostly reworking a variety of down home blues standards from the pens of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sleepy John Estes, Memphis Minnie and Lowell Fulson. While credited to Holeman, the title track is a slowed down version of an Ike Turner song that was recorded for Cobra with Tommy Hodge handling the vocal. In additions to Hutchins, others heard in the backing band include Duffy and Cool John Ferguson on guitars, and Slewfoot on harp. Several tracks have backing vocals.

This is at times entertaining but oftentimes somewhat anonymous, down-home flavored performances of the songs. This type of small group down home blues deriving from the recordings of the likes of Muddy Waters and Lightning Hopkins has been done more compellingly by the likes of Lightnin’ Slim on Excello or Louisiana Red for a variety of labels over the years. Proceeds of this does support the Foundation’s worthy efforts, but otherwise this only gets a reserved recommendation. For more on the Music Maker Foundation and its various programs and recordings, check

This review originally appeared in the August 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 307) and I likely received my review copy from Music Maker Foundation. Incidentally there are several other recordings by Holeman available from the Music Maker Foundation so check out their website. Here is a video of him performing When Things Go Wrong.

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