A night of acoustic blues with Roy 'Book' Binder, Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes, Paul Geremia, Rory Block

Monday, 07 March 2011 12:00 AM Written by 

What could be letter than an evening with a fine acoustic blues artist? How about an evening with four fine acoustic blues artists?

The occasion was modestly billed as "The Greatest Acoustic Blues Show On Earth," and held at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, Fla., where, if you'll remember, BlueNotes has his winter headquarters.And for a few hours Saturday night, it lived up to its billing.

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Roy "Book" Binder (Jim White photo)

The featured artists were (in case you didn't read the headline) Roy "Book" Binder, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Paul Geremia and Rory Block.Yes, it was a good evening, each offered a good look why he/she is considered one of the best at what he/she does. Let's take a look at them in the order they performed.

Binder is a wry, wiry guy with a deceptively easy fingerpicking style, clever songwriting skills and a cool cap.

He's one of the acknowledged acoustic masters, and demonstrated all his skills with original tunes like "St. Pete Blues" (dedicated to his home town), "New Age Woman Blues," and more traditional material like Blind Boy Fuller's "Rag Mama Rag," Mississippi John Hurt's "Keep on Knockin'," and Pink Anderson's "C.C. and O. Blues."

Among several interesting stories, Binder told was how the first names of bluesmen Anderson and Floyd Council provided the name of the band Pink Floyd.

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Jimmy "Duck" Holmes (Jim White photo)

Next was the very pleasant surprise of Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, an acoustic player from Bentonia, Miss., and from that small but influential school of blues guitar -- think Skip James and Jack Owens.

Holmes has been performing for years, and runs the oldest juke joint in Mississippi, the Blue Front, but he didn't begin to record and move outside the Bentonia circle until the mid-2000s.

He talked about his early years, the music of the men he learned from, especially Owens, and played traditional blues like James' "Devil Got My Woman," and the classic "Little Red Rooster."

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Paul Geremia (Jim White photo)
Owens was a real glimpse of history, a player who was part of an era that others only imitate. He's touring more these days, so if you get a chance to see him, don't miss it.

Paul Geremia followed an intermission, an irascible dude with a floppy fedora, and a sly way with his guitar and lyrics. And an amazing set of fingers.

He picked out his own songs -- "Rising River Blues," "Still Think About You," and "Wonderful Affliction" (inspired by a divorce, he said).  He did Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway," among other classics, demonstrating why his fingers belong in the Smithsonian.

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Rory Block (Jim White photo)

Rory Block closed the night with her usual amazing guitar work on blues classics like Johnson's "Crossroads Blues" and "Me and the Devil Blues," Son House's "Death Letter Blues," ''Preachin' Blues," and an old acoustic Muddy Waters tune, "I Be Bound."

She threw in a few originals -- from blues to folk to gospel, including the lovely "From the Dust"  -- mingled with stories from her life and her observations on life. She spent her teen years in New York City learning from old artists resurrected for the blues revival of the 1960s.

Block is one of the few artists -- male or female -- who captures the acoustic masters with hair-raising fidelity -- foot-stomping, guitar pounding, slide-tingling authenticity.

In fact, most of those performing Saturday night claim similar connections to players like House and Rev. Gary Davis and more. They're doing admirable work that's helping to keep alive the origins of the blues -- a valuable service at a time when there are very few old masters left.

So it was indeed a fine night, enjoying the spirit of great blues.

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