The blues are arguably the most direct and conversational form of music. As blues singers unspool their tales, which tend to alternate between the extremes of hardship and conquest, their moans of peril and of pleasure are delivered mouth to gut. Similarly, the best way to present the blues is often the most basic: one guitar, one voice. Keep it unfiltered and uncluttered.
So when hearing that, on his latest recording, John Dee Holeman came with a five-piece band plus a handful of other guests on everything from banjo to sax—a recipe for dilution—some concern would be understandable. Fear not: Producer Zeke Hutchins (who joins Cool John Ferguson, Jay Brown, harmonica man Slewfoot and Music Maker founder Tim Duffy in the band) keeps the spotlight right where it belongs, on Holeman's voice and lead guitar. "Mojo Hand" features the pedal steel of Chatham County Line's Greg Readling, echoing softly like a train whistle two hollows over, as well as a Readling Wurlitzer solo and background vocals from Taz Halloween. It's a musician-stocked number, but all the players fall into a straight line leading right to Holeman. Same for the title track, a sassy, Holeman-penned hunk of Slim Harpo-styled R&B. It all comes down to Holeman's bold playing and a voice that remains remarkably vibrant and expressive.
Then again, with a pair of instruments that powerful at his disposal, you could surround Holeman with a 100-piece marching band, and he'd likely still earn your attention and make that gut-wise direct connection.