BY TOM CALLAHAN
Marking their 35th year together, the Holmes Brothers are an American musical treasure. And the genre might be called the blues, but it is impossible to listen to brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes and brother-in-spirit Popsy Dixon without feeling good. This is music as hope and life and musical history. Brotherhood is their eleventh album since 1989 and fifth for Alligator. It is one of their best and perhaps their bluesiest album to date.
As anybody who has ever seen them live can attest, the Holmes Brothers are an incredibly tight and talented band. But what stays with you is the incredible soulful and uplifting harmonies of Sherman’s stark baritone, Wendell’s raspy baritone and Popsy’s beautiful falsetto. And while sons of the south—Virginia to be exact—the Holmes developed their unique sound in the tough blues bar scene of New York City in the 1980’s, where they captured the admiration of people like Joan Osborne. The result was that they can play and sing virtually anything from the Beatles to Ike Turner and make it a Holmes Brothers classic.
Brotherhood proves the point. It has everything from early rock and roll, soulful R&B, doo wop to blues to gospel. All of it tied together by their signature soaring harmonies and infectious beat. Either Sherman or Wendell handles the songwriting on eight of the 14 songs. A Wendell song—“Loving You From Afar”—is about as a beautiful as the blues gets. And the album is capped off with the band’s incredible version of the classic “Amazing Grace” which opens every one of their live performances. And if your soul is not uplifted and stirred after hearing that, you might want to check see if you are alive.
If you spent time, as I did, in the juke joints of Mississippi and across the south trying to learn about the blues, you soon learn the truth about the music and the painful culture that gave it birth and then went on to form rock and roll. There was not much distance between the sacred and profane. Wendell describes it, “We used to say we’d rock them on Saturday and save ‘em on Sunday.” And that is exactly what the Holmes Brothers do: their incredible, indelible sound will both rock your body and lift up your soul. You have to experience them in concert if you have a chance and get this album. It is one of their best.
DOWNLOAD: “Drivin’ In the Drivin’ Rain” “Loving You From Afar” “Amazing Grace.”