The Holmes Brothers

The Holmes Brothers
State of Grace

Alligator Records ALCD 4912

By T Charles
April 2007

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Too often, feelings of disappointment accompany the first listen of a new album. You listen to 10 or 12 songs, and usually like one or two. Hence, more people these days download just one or two “hit” songs from a new album.

However, after one listen to this album, I immediately wanted to play it again. From the title, I was expecting a spiritual album. But while listening to this tasty mix, I heard some spiritual flavoring—but just enough. Even the most atheistic listener is pulled in. The 14 songs are laid back, steady, stirring, and often uplifting.

Lead vocalists, including Wendell and Sherman Holmes, Popsy Dixon, Joan Osborne, Roseanne Cash and Levon Helm provide a varied, but compatible mix of styles. The Holmes Brothers trio is more than ably complemented by the reliable touch of Glenn Patscha on piano and organ. Larry Campbell adds the pedal steel guitar, fiddle, and mandolin; and Byron Isaacs adds variety and a different touch with the upright bass. Many others make valuable contributions.

On “Close the Door,” one of the originals written by Sherman Holmes, Wendell sings something you probably wouldn’t say to someone: “I can’t stand your conversation, it brings out the worst in me,” and ends with: “close the door and walk away.” No drums. Mandolin and guitar provides strength through simplicity.

A solemn, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding” has a gospel feel accentuated by the organ and steel guitar. Although I love Elvis Costello’s version, this one will make you reconsider the notions of peace, love and understanding, and move you in a different, more visceral way.

Wendell Holmes shares the lead with Rosanne Cash on the Hank Williams song “I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love With You,” another drumless beauty. The Cajun styled “Bad Moon Rising” - complete with accordion and fiddle - really works. I think John Fogarty would approve.

“Three Gray Walls,” sung by Popsy Dixon et al, is a melodic slow dance song, written by the keyboardist, Glenn Patscha. “Those Memories of you” is a rousing gospel song. Sung by Joan Osborne, this one - with the call and response lyrics - will make you want to get up and clap with the beat.

Cheap Trick would have had a better song if they slowed down “I Want You to Want Me” like the Holmes Brothers do. Here they took a song I never liked—and made it likeable. This version also made me reconsider what the song really means. “Standing in the Need of Love,” a bluesy number written by Wendell Holmes and Angel Acevedo, cries out for love. Wendell plays an inspired guitar solo on this one that wails the blues instrumentally.

“I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages” has Levon Helm’s lead vocal and mandolin, and the harmonies recall the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, and its Appalachian feel. The closing song, “God Will,” one of two tracks written by Lyle Lovett, talks about the difference between God and us. Popsy Dixon sings humbly and convincingly about the shortcomings of all humans.

There is a special talent in choosing songs for an album or performance. The success of many artists is delayed, if it arrives at all, because the “right” songs can’t be found. The Holmes Brothers and friends don’t have that problem. There isn’t a single throw-away on this album. If you enjoy listening to a different reading of a song you know well, this album has a few of those mixed with several original songs. The range of styles, from country to blues delivered on this album makes it perhaps the most unique and eclectic blend on one album, in any music collection.

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