Joan Osborne & The Holmes Brothers; Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, January 2011
I came upon the Holmes Brothers following the release of their cd, State of Grace. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to meet Sherman and Wendell Holmes and Popsy Dixon. The more I found out about these three elder statesmen of the music scene made me wonder why I hadn’t stumbled upon them before. Truth be told, I’ve heard their music many times over the years but never made that connection to these three southern gentlemen.
More amazing and a testament to their talent is the fact that their last several releases have all been so strong and had so much mass appeal. Their work on Rounder Records beginning in 1989 garnered a lot of attention from folks in the music industry but when the group signed to Alligator in 2001, the band seemed to hit a stride that began with the critically acclaimed Speaking in Tongues, included Simple Truths, then State of Grace. Both Simple Truths and State of Grace reached the Billboard charts and the top five of the Blues Album chart. State of Grace would garner the band the Soul Blues Album of The Year. Pretty good for a couple of brothers who formed their first band in 1963, 50 years ago.
Sherman plays bass, Wendell holds down guitar and piano and Popsy is on drums. They’re a vocal triple threat and share the songwriting. Their sense of roots and gospel inspired blues, soul and country ground their plaintive vocals while their musicianship is high caliber, if understated at times. It’s all about the song and the simple truths they sing about that bring a kind of universal appeal to their music. Their latest release, Brotherhood, continues with the same southern sense of soul and blues that is their trademark.
The biggest appeal of this release is the slice of life songwriting that hits a chord with me, and probably will with a lot of you out there. These are the songs that will have you singing along in short order when you remember that time when… We’ve all had those moments and events in our lives and this cd seems to sing about the changes and the people in our lives up close and personal. The cd begins with the uptempo “Stayed At The Party (Just a Little Too Long)” and while celebrates isn’t the right word, it acknowledges with affection the party animal in us all. They bring the three part harmonies up front for the next cut “I Gave Up All I Had” and in the spirit of being a musician with years spent on the road, share that experience with “Passing Through.”
Next up is some old fashioned rock and roll with that big fat sax sound, gritty blues and then some sweet soul. Another highlight is the repentant tale of the former womanizer proclaiming to his woman, “My Word Is My Bond.” “Drivin’ In The Drivin’ Rain” is reminiscent of vintage Al Green; and then the brothers break into the kind of 60’s soul that used to fill our radios and summers when we were just kids, “My Kind Of Girl.”
“Darkest Hour” goes exactly where you think it would, walking straight into that smoky gin mill with the ratty pool tables and questionable clientele. The power of the Holmes Brothers though, has always been their uplifting spirit and the joy of life they share with their audience. Nowhere is that more evident when they proclaim that when everyone else fails you, they’ll be the “Last Man Standing.” The closing number, a live performance staple for the Holmes Brothers, is a nearly eight minute version of “Amazing Grace.” The song receives a tender and emotional treatment, truly reflecting what’s in the heart and provides a powerful closing to a wonderful cd.
My childhood was filled with early country and bluegrass growing up on the reservation and then classic soul and R&B when my family moved to the city when I was just a kid. Hearing all the elements of those sweet sounds from my youth on one cd makes this one of my top ten cds for the year.